Amendment A247A not moved.
Clauses 200 to 205 agreed.
Clause 206: Roe etc
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A248: Clause 206, page 117, line 33, leave out "that subsection" and insert "subsection (3)"
Amendment A248 agreed.
Clause 206, as amended, agreed.
Clause 207: Licences to fish
Amendment A249 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 207 agreed.
Clause 208 agreed.
Clause 209: Authorisation to fish
Amendment A250 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Moved by The Duke of Montrose
A250A: Clause 209, page 120, leave out lines 34 and 35
I move this amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. I shall be brief, as this is a probing amendment. There is a licensing regime contained in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975. That Act is being updated; Clause 207 of the Bill, which we passed a second ago, amends Section 25 of the Act and will apply that regime to all these fisheries. When we get to Clause 208, amending Section 26, there is a reference to,
"powers to create an order".
I notice that rod and line and historic installations are to be excepted from the powers in the order. What will the effect of that be?
The Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act currently has in place a charging regime. How many licences need to be issued at present under that regime, and do the Government envisage that the amendments in the Bill will create a vast change in those numbers? If the present scheme is adequate to regulate the fisheries at present, why is it thought necessary to have an additional authorisation scheme with its own charging regime? Does that imply an extra financial burden for the administration—presumably, the Environment Agency? Has this been assessed? Will the Government expect to recover the full burden of these costs from the applicants? I beg to move.
I am grateful to the noble Duke, who has moved a probing amendment. We are introducing an authorisation scheme because the current position does not work sufficiently well. At the moment, the Environment Agency must issue licences to all who apply, subject to any net limitation orders or court-issued disqualification orders. It is only in those cases that the Environment Agency is permitted not to issue a licence. Other than that, it is an automatic issuance. The problem with that is that some fisheries can have a serious impact on stock or the aquatic environment, and we think they should be subject to tighter controls.
The Bill will enable the agency to assess those fisheries that pose a higher risk to either fish stocks or the aquatic environment, which might involve new fishing methods that may develop and which have potential to harm the aquatic environment. In order to safeguard the situation, we want the agency to be able to refuse to grant an authorisation should the method present significant exploitation or harm. For that purpose we are amending the licensing provisions in the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, through Clauses 207 and 209. Angling and fisheries undertaken under statutory entitlement will remain under licensing schemes, but Clause 207 gives Ministers the power to decide which nets and traps not used under statutory entitlement should be licensed and which should apply for authorisation.
As to numbers, under the current rod regime the Environment Agency issues approximately 1.3 million rod and line licences and over 1,200 net and trap licences. I am told that the number of licences issued is not the same as the number of fishers; in particular, eel fishers hold a number of licences in order to set a number of eel traps and nets. At this stage we intend that only those who are targeting eels using fixed traps or racks or those targeting lamprey or smelt will be required to seek authorisation. Early indications are that this change will affect between 20 to 30 people out of over 1,000 who currently purchase net or trap licences, so the vast majority of those currently purchasing a licence to fish using nets and traps will continue under the same regime as before.
The Environment Agency is currently considering the appropriate fee for authorisations. My understanding is that its thinking is that fees will be in line with those for a licence currently issued for that fishery. Early assessments are that the fee involved will be sufficient to cover the cost to the Environment Agency of assessing the effect of a particular method on a site or stock. Those costs not met through the fees will be absorbed by the Environment Agency through efficiency savings. I assure the noble Duke that the Environment Agency will consult widely on its proposed changes for authorisations later this year, and fishers will then have an opportunity to contribute their views.
I thank the Minister for giving us so much information. In the confusion at the beginning, I forgot to declare my interest as somebody who runs a salmon fishery in Scotland which is not subject to the regulations.
I am most grateful to learn of the workings of the new regime being put in place and that it will not mean a substantial change for those affected. We all applaud the powers with which it will provide the Government to conserve fish and eels. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A250A withdrawn.
Clause 209 agreed.
Clause 210: Enforcement
Amendments A250B and A250C had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 210 agreed.
Clauses 211 to 217 agreed.
Clause 218: Theft of fish from private fisheries etc
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A251: Clause 218, page 128, line 10, leave out "the statutory maximum" and insert "level 5 on the standard scale"
Amendment A251 agreed.
Clause 218, as amended, agreed.
Clause 219 agreed.
Clause 220: Duties of the Environment Agency
Amendments A252 and A253 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 220 agreed.
Clauses 221 to 223 agreed.
Schedule 16 agreed.
Clause 224 agreed.
Clause 225: Marine enforcement officers
Moved by Lord Greenway
A254: Clause 225, page 132, line 12, after "officer" insert "solely employed"
"any person appointed as such ... by the MMO ... by the Welsh Ministers ... any person who is a commissioned officer of any of Her Majesty's ships ... [or] any person in command or charge of any aircraft or hovercraft of the Royal Navy, the Army or the Royal Air Force".
In respect of the first category, any person appointed as such an officer by the MMO, my Amendment A254 would add, "solely employed" after "an officer", the reason being that individuals should be appropriately trained and meet competency standards before they are able to carry out any functions on behalf of the MMO. Any person appointed as a marine enforcement officer should also be protected from potential conflicts of interests, such as holding another appointment with another organisation concerned with marine management.
Amendment A259 deals with interpretations under this part of the Bill. An enforcement officer appointed by the MMO may also bring with him any other person to assist him. If he is to do that, "any other person" should be made clearer. My amendment defines "any other person" as,
"a person who is in an appropriate marine regulatory position".
Amendments A260 and A261 refer back to Clause 250(1)(a) and "any other person" who may be brought along by an enforcement officer. Both the enforcement officer and the person assisting him must produce their name and appropriate authority for what they are doing, if requested to do so. I seek to leave out the words "if requested to do so", because it is important that people should identify themselves straightaway to anyone whom they are stopping where they believe they may have caused an offence. This would be particularly important for a foreign yachtsman, for example, who may not really know what is going on if he happens to sail into an area where he is not supposed to be. It is right that the enforcement officer or his assistant should identify themselves properly first.
My final amendment in this group again refers to those assisting the enforcement officer. As I have intimated, they should also provide their name straightaway, without being prompted. I beg to move.
The noble Lord's Amendment A254 seems sensible. It would ensure that agencies employed their own staff as enforcement officers, which would ensure that they were properly trained and up to the job. Our amendments in this group relate to the training and experience of the officers, particularly in regard to appropriate training in and experience of animal welfare. Can the Minister confirm that the training indicated in his officials' briefing is only a base level and that officers will not be expected to undertake tasks for which they are not suitably trained?
I agree, too, with Amendments A260, A261 and A262, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. I cannot think why those assisting the marine officers should not be required to give their names as well. What have they got to hide? I also cannot see why the information in Clause 280 should have to be requested before it is given.
Behind these amendments is a clear concern about the training of officers involved in enforcement duties. I very much accept the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, about the importance of training. From the information that has already been made available, it is clear that we will want to ensure that the appropriate officers have the requisite training. I agree with the noble Earl that there needs to be the essential core basic training but, clearly, we would expect that to be developed and improved in the years ahead. Ensuring that we have highly motivated and trained people doing this important job will be part of making sure that the legislation and the work of the MMO are successful.
Amendment A254 would limit the MMO to appointing only its own officers as marine enforcement officers. The noble Lord wants to ensure that only appropriately trained officers have access to the powers and that no conflicts of interest arise from the individual officer. I see exactly where he is coming from and entirely agree that officers with access to the enforcement powers in the Bill must be appropriately trained and supervised. Because this very much involves them, the Marine and Fisheries Agency—the current agency—the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees of England and Wales and the EA are already developing a common training package that will be delivered by the MMO, which will provide consistency to marine enforcement and assurance to the public that enforcement is fair and proportionate. We fully accept the point about consistency of approach. That point is very well taken indeed.
The problem with the amendment is that it would limit the MMO to appointing only its officers to be marine enforcement officers. That would mean that the MMO could not cross-warrant appropriately trained officers of other organisations. It is important to cross-warrant because that ensures close co-operation and an integration of approach. It is an important tool of enforcement. I also believe, harking back to the final Oral Question this afternoon, that it is a good illustration of what is meant by better regulation. It is seeking to ensure that the regulatory bodies that collectively have a responsibility in these areas actually work together and have a consistency of approach. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, would create an imbalance between England and Wales, which I suspect was unintended, since under his amendment Welsh Ministers could cross-warrant and the MMO could not. I suspect that that is more a drafting point.
Amendment A259 is about the assistant and seeks an assurance that an assistant is an appropriate person to help with an inspection and investigation. Of course, I agree that the assistant needs to be appropriately trained to assist in any inspection or investigation. It might help if I inform the Committee of the sort of work that we think an assistant might do. In some cases, the work would involve counting fish boxes onboard a fishing vessel, assisting in the search of premises or assisting with lifting or moving fishing gear. At other times, more specialist help might be required, such as the assistance of a qualified engineer to operate equipment used to test the engine power of a fishing vessel or, as we will debate later, the assistance of a qualified veterinary surgeon.
On the first list of categories—counting fish boxes and so forth—we think that the position is safeguarded because the assistant can work only under the supervision of a warranted marine enforcement officer. As an employer, the MMO must be assured that its staff and anyone working on its behalf are working in accordance with the law. That is a fair responsibility to place on the MMO.
I fully understand why the noble Earl wants to ensure that officers handling live animals are appropriately trained and qualified. Certainly, it is important that animal welfare issues are taken into consideration in the use of those powers and I fully accept that appropriately skilled people will need to be drafted in where necessary to ensure that animals are handled humanely.
We see the power in the Bill to take samples from live animals as having has two main applications. One is for wildlife officers under wildlife legislation—under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, for example. In the enforcement of such legislation, we would normally expect the officer to take a skilled assistant with them, such as a vet, using their power of assistance under Clause 250. Another, more specific application of the power enables officers to mark egg-carrying lobsters to ensure they are not landed and so protect stocks.
The clauses are drafted to ensure that appropriately skilled people can assist enforcement officers in carrying out their functions where necessary, but they are not overly restrictive and do not prevent officers performing a task that they can currently carry out, which would come under the first list of duties that I read out. We do not want to unnecessarily limit enforcement that can already be performed by introducing excessive procedure under the Bill. In that instance, we rely on the MMO to use its own judgment and the fact that it is liable for what the people it appoints do in its name.
Amendments A260, A261 and A262 comprise the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, that every time an enforcement officer or their assistant exercises any power, they must give their name, the power they are proposing to exercise and the grounds for proposing to do so without being prompted to give that information. On the face of it, that is sensible, and good practice dictates that a marine enforcement officer or their assistant should explain what they intend to do and their reasons for performing that action at commencement of an inspection. As now, an officer would provide the evidence of their authority, the powers that they are intending to exercise and the reasons for undertaking the inspection, if requested. That provides reassurance to the person being inspected that the procedures to be used are within the law. Just as British sea fisheries officers currently do, we would expect marine enforcement officers to use common sense and to explain to those being inspected what they are doing. However, my reading of the noble Lord's amendment is that that information might have to be repeated on a frequent basis, perhaps in an inspection that might last several hours. That would be overly bureaucratic and rather over-egging the cake. We certainly agree that a marine enforcement officer or their assistant should explain what they are doing and their reasons for performing that action at the commencement of an inspection.
On the assistant and Amendment A262, the power to inspect and investigate comes through the marine enforcement officer's warrant. The assistant may exercise a power only under the supervision or direction of that officer. For that reason, the assistant's identity is not relevant as they are not exercising a power in their own right. In one sense, it is rather a safeguard to the point raised by the noble Lord's earlier amendment, in that it follows that the assistant is indeed an assistant to the enforcement officer and that the prime responsibility rests on the enforcement officer.
I hope that this is sufficient explanation of why the Bill is drafted as it is. I fully understand where the amendments are coming from. However, the regulatory approach in the Bill is proportionate. It seeks to allow cross-warranting, which is likely to be more effective. I acknowledge the need for consistency of approach and am clear that, first, the MMO must take responsibility for the quality of people appointed as enforcement officers and their assistants and, secondly, enforcement action comes through the marine enforcement officer's warrant, not through the assistant.
I am most grateful to the Minister for his full explanation in response to my amendments. First, I am delighted that there will be consistency of approach in training the enforcement officers. The Joint Committee was concerned about that, and the Government appear to be taking that side of things seriously, which I welcome. I also take the point about cross-warranting and am satisfied with the Minister's explanation.
On the identification of officers when they board a vessel, I was not necessarily thinking of fishing, as fishermen are fairly used to being boarded and inspected. I was thinking more about yachtsmen, who might be approached when sailing through a prohibited area and would not be used to such a thing happening. One identification would suffice there. It is obviously ridiculous to have enforcement officers identifying themselves every five minutes when doing different things on one particular fishing boat.
In the case that the noble Lord has instanced, there should be no question that the information that he wishes to be given would be, save in extremis.
With this amendment, I shall speak to a number of other government amendments that relate to recent agreement across the UK regarding cross-border enforcement of marine licensing and nature conservation. In that sense, they reflect our earlier debate on the need to ensure, first, that we respect the devolution settlement, which the Bill does; we then want to ensure as much co-operation and collaboration as possible across the devolved Administrations and the UK Government.
I am glad to report that all Administrations across the UK agree that we want to provide for effective enforcement measures within the Bill and that there is an acceptance that, because the devolution settlements vary according to the Administration and the area of legislation, provision is needed to cover enforcement powers across borders according to each of those circumstances. The Bill, with my amendments, will now reflect reciprocal agreement across all UK Administrations, with whose support I am moving these amendments.
At present, officers enforcing marine licensing and nature conservation rely on UK Acts of Parliament for all their powers. Under the Bill, that will change: for example, a marine enforcement officer acting in their own area of jurisdiction, such as English waters, might suspect a licensing offence while inspecting a vessel. If the officer might want to inspect the business premises to which the vessel relates as part of an investigation and those premises were in England or Wales, the officer could. Yet, as the Bill is currently drafted, if the premises were in, for example, Scotland, the officer would have no power to investigate. We have, therefore, identified a loophole that we need to address.
Under the Bill, marine enforcement officers may use their powers to enforce marine licensing throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, plus the UK marine licensing area—that is, the UK marine area as defined under Clause 40(1), other than the Scottish inshore region—with the exception of offshore Scotland. The Scottish offshore region, defined under Clause 312, is essentially the sea areas within the UK marine area—not including the Scottish inshore region—that lie within the Scottish zone and those sea areas that lie outside that zone, but which are nearer to Scotland than to any other part of the UK.
My amendments to Clause 226—that is, Amendments A254A to A254J—enable marine enforcement officers to go into Scotland or the Scottish inshore area if they are investigating an offence. If they ordered a vessel or marine structure to stop in their area of jurisdiction but the vessel continued into offshore Scottish waters, the officer could use "domestic hot pursuit" as long as the pursuit were continuous. If the pursuit is not continuous, then the government amendments in this group result in officers being enabled to use their powers in inshore areas, and on land anywhere in the UK, to investigate a suspected offence which was committed in the area where they have jurisdiction.
If my amendments were accepted, domestic hot pursuit would not be needed into the Scottish inshore area for a suspected licensing or nature conservation offence. The amendments enable officers to investigate such an offence at a later point. They are not dependent on the continuous, unbroken pursuit that domestic hot pursuit is reliant upon.
For the enforcement of nature conservation in Clause 227, marine enforcement officers may use their powers throughout English and Welsh waters and the offshore area adjacent to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Government amendments to Clause 227—Amendments A254L to A254U—enable officers to go into Scotland or the Scottish inshore area, Northern Ireland or the Northern Irish inshore area if they are investigating an offence, with domestic hot pursuit being available in the offshore areas. By government Amendment A254K, I also seek to add by-laws to the list of measures an officer can enforce in relation to the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994.
Government amendments to Clause 230—Amendments A254W to A254Z, for marine licensing of reserved matters in offshore Scottish waters—enable officers to investigate offences elsewhere in the UK. Government amendments A254AA to A254AH to Clause 231 for marine licensing in Northern Ireland, government Amendments A254AK to A254AM to Clause 232 for the enforcement of marine licensing in the Scottish offshore region, and government Amendments A254AN to A254AQ to Clause 233 for the enforcement of nature conservation in the Scottish offshore region make reciprocal arrangements for officers appointed by Scottish Ministers or the Department of Environment in Northern Ireland needing to investigate offences in other parts of the UK. It is intended that orders will be made under Section 84 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and Section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998 to allow officers to use common powers within England and Wales when the Scottish marine Bill and the Northern Ireland conservation Bill have received Royal Assent. Other Administrations have also agreed to ensure that reciprocal arrangements can exist.
Government Amendment A254V to Clause 230 and government Amendment A254AJ to Clause 232 align Clause 110(3), on the enforcement of reserved matters for licensing in Scotland, with Part 8. This allows Clause 232 properly to reflect the devolution settlement, since both matters relating to licensing for defence and Part VI of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 are reserved. Government Amendment A254V enables the Secretary of State to appoint officers with the powers to enforce these matters in offshore Scotland, as the clause already did for oil and gas matters, and government Amendment A254AJ removes the ability for Scottish Ministers to do so.
Amendments A255A and A255B to Clause 242 make the equivalent provision for Scotland that the clause already makes for England and Wales. This is because the definition of "legal privilege" in Clause 242(7) relies on its meaning in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and this Act does not extend to Scotland.
Clause 260 sets out the procedure to be followed when seizing fish or fishing gear for forfeiture under Clauses 258 and 259. Amendments A259A and A259B correct erroneous references to a report when it is a notice the content of which is already set out in that clause.
Amendments A259C to A259G all deal essentially with the same issue, the procedures by which vessels detained under Clause 269 may be released and bonds given under Clause 272 may be repaid. To remove any ambiguity as to which court is meant, we are proposing that in each of these clauses, after "the court", the words,
"referred to in section 269(1)(b)(ii)" are inserted.
I apologise for these numerous amendments but they improve the Bill and address key points in relation to enforcement across borders. They will ensure the closest possible collaboration and are built upon discussions that have taken place between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. They have the support of those Administrations.
When I looked at these amendments, I could not believe my eyes. So many complications have emerged about who does what in which bit of the sea. It is rather alarming. Have fishermen's associations agreed to this? When a boat is approached and argues that it is not where the officer approaching it claims that it is, what happens? Is there an argument at sea, perhaps on a rough day with a howling gale? Boats drift sideways and are sometimes not dead sure where they are. It seems to be a weak part of the Bill. I do not see how the Minister can get round it, because it is built in to what has been agreed with the devolved Administrations. We have the added complication that in Scotland Ministers now refer to everything as "Scottish waters" and, to some extent, the Scots are being allowed to have them for some purposes. It is very complicated. Is the Minister content that the fishermen have agreed to this?
If I speak first, the Minister can answer both of us at the same time. There are a great many government amendments here. I have waded through to see if I could pick any holes in them. I am afraid I was defeated; they look largely sensible. I was particularly pleased to see the reciprocal nature of the arrangements to enable officers to use their enforcement powers in other areas of the UK where they do not have jurisdiction, so an enforcement officer can give chase outside his area to carry out his enforcement powers.
I have a question that takes matters a step further. I am not sure whether the Minister has alluded to this. If an enforcement officer is patrolling within his boundary and sees an activity outside it that he should enforce if it is within his jurisdiction, presumably he would ring up the neighbouring country's enforcement officers and say, "An activity is going on that is wrong". The other country might say, "We cannot deal with it because we have nobody in the area. Can you deal with it?". Will the reciprocal arrangement work like that, allowing permission to be given to deal with something across a boundary?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right, and has made this point a number of times in our earlier discussion on the Bill. It is a complex situation and the regulatory regime is different for different aspects of the Bill, which adds to the complexity. Noble Lords have expressed concerns about how we can have a coherent approach to the marine environment in UK waters. Equally, the Government have always stated firmly that we have to be consistent with the devolution settlement. The Bill represents our best approach to doing that. Alongside it, there have been very encouraging discussions in the last few months between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, recognising the points that the noble Baroness has made. There has been genuine agreement that all the Governments concerned want to make this work. The amendments that I am bringing before the Committee are proof of that. The fact that we have been able to reach agreement is visible evidence that, notwithstanding the complexity of this matter and the difficulty of ensuring consistency, the Administrations and the UK Government have agreed an approach. That is greatly encouraging.
We do not wish to seek the agreement of the representatives of the fishing organisations on enforcement. That is not the appropriate wording. I say to the noble Baroness that we will want to work with those organisations and, following legislation, as part of the rollout of the information we will clearly need to take account of the points that she has raised. There will need to be training and advice given to representative organisations, and we will do that.
To answer the questions that were raised, I can say that the Bill does not change the circumstances in which a ship may be boarded. I do not think that in itself will cause a problem. The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, asked about an enforcement officer working under one regime perhaps being contacted by a devolved Administration, or spotting inappropriate or what he perceives to be unlawful activity and what he can do about it. My understanding is that if that officer had been cross-warranted by one of the devolved Administrations, that officer will be able to act. That goes back to our previous debate and shows the benefit of cross-warranting. As far as possible, we are ensuring a joined-up, coherent approach to enforcement.
Further to that response, which I am grateful to the noble Lord for having set out clearly, is the idea that all enforcement officers will be cross-warranted? That seems to be one way of getting over the problem. If all officers were licensed to operate if they happened to be the nearest person there, that would surely solve some of the problems.
If I may be so bold as to refer to an earlier stage in our discussions, this debate makes evident that the responsibilities entrusted to the MMO will be very considerable. I wonder whether the MMO will have sufficient resources to have this very broad remit, not only in relation to the problems that arise in the case of devolved Administrations. Our own coastline is going to need a massive budget and a proper training programme. Can we have some assurances before the passage of the Bill is completed that the Government realise the extent of the responsibilities that they are taking on and the commitment that they will make to ensure that it works properly?
I am certainly not going to fall for promising a massive budget, particularly in this rather critical time when it comes to public finances. I agree with the noble Lord that we have to ensure that the MMO is properly resourced, and I am sure that the devolved Administrations will want to ensure that they look carefully at the budgets—depending on which organisation is involved or whether they are going to run the service in-house—to ensure that they will have appropriate resources.
This is not starting from fresh. Much of the enforcement legislation is building on existing legislation, and many of the staff of the organisations that will be taking part in the enforcement of this legislation will be the same staff as are working in the arena now. In a moment, we shall have a debate on MMO staff. We must leave cross-warranting the appropriate staff of each agency to the relevant organisations to resolve. I am sure that they will need to consider that, and they may want to draw up memoranda of understanding.
I want to respond positively to the noble Baroness, and I fully understand what she means. If officers may be patrolling areas that are close to each other, in that respect it clearly makes sense to cross-warrant, and I fully take that point. I am sure that there are some practical reasons why I would not want to stand here and say that every officer of each appropriate organisation should be cross-warranted. We are not just talking about different marine organisations; we are talking about the Environment Agency as well. I am sure that there would be a case for restricting the cross-warranting. Indeed, because in cross-warranting you have to be assured of consistency—as was mentioned in the debate on the previous amendment, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway—it will have to be done carefully. I entirely accept the noble Baroness's point about the need for consistency, particularly between neighbouring jurisdictions.
Amendment A254A agreed.
Amendments A254B to A254J
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A254B: Clause 226, page 133, line 9, at end insert—
"( ) in Scotland or the Scottish inshore region, in relation to an offence which the officer reasonably believes has been committed—
(i) within the relevant enforcement area, or
(ii) outside the UK marine area and in circumstances where a vessel, aircraft or marine structure referred to in paragraph (c) or (d) was involved in the commission of the offence;
( ) in relation to any vessel, aircraft or marine structure in the Scottish offshore region which has been pursued there in accordance with subsection (4)."
A254C: Clause 226, page 133, line 10, leave out "vehicle,"
A254D: Clause 226, page 133, line 12, leave out "vehicle,"
A254E: Clause 226, page 133, line 13, leave out "vehicle,"
A254F: Clause 226, page 133, line 15, leave out "vehicle,"
A254G: Clause 226, page 133, line 17, leave out "vehicle,"
A254H: Clause 226, page 133, line 19, leave out "vehicle,"
A254J: Clause 226, page 133, line 23, leave out ", vehicle"
Amendments A254B to A254J agreed.
Clause 226, as amended, agreed.
Clause 227 : Enforcement of nature conservation legislation
Amendments A254K to A254U
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A254K: Clause 227, page 134, line 14, after "byelaws" insert "or orders"
A254L: Clause 227, page 134, line 25, leave out paragraph (b)
A254M: Clause 227, page 134, line 29, at end insert—
"( ) in Scotland or Northern Ireland, or the Scottish or Northern Ireland inshore region, in relation to an offence which the officer reasonably believes has been committed—
(i) within the relevant enforcement area, or
(ii) outside the UK marine area and in circumstances where a British vessel or British marine installation was involved in the commission of the offence;
( ) in relation to any vessel, aircraft or marine installation in the Scottish offshore region which has been pursued there in accordance with subsection (4)."
A254N: Clause 227, page 134, line 30, leave out "vehicle,"
A254P: Clause 227, page 134, line 32, leave out "vehicle,"
A254Q: Clause 227, page 134, line 33, leave out "vehicle,"
A254R: Clause 227, page 134, line 35, leave out "vehicle,"
A254S: Clause 227, page 134, line 37, leave out "vehicle,"
A254T: Clause 227, page 134, line 40, leave out "vehicle,"
A254U: Clause 227, page 134, line 44, leave out ", vehicle"
Amendments A254K to A254U agreed.
Clause 227, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 228 and 229 agreed.
Clause 230 : Marine licensing: oil and gas, etc
Amendments A254V to A254Z
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A254V: Clause 230, page 138, line 13, leave out from "region" to end of line 15 and insert "falling within section 110(3) (activities relating to certain reserved matters);"
A254W: Clause 230, page 138, line 28, leave out paragraph (b)
A254X: Clause 230, page 138, line 34, at end insert—
"( ) in Scotland or Northern Ireland, or the Scottish or Northern Ireland inshore region, in relation to an offence which the person reasonably believes has been committed—
(i) within the relevant enforcement area, or
(ii) outside the UK marine area and in circumstances where a vessel, aircraft or marine structure referred to in paragraph (c) or (d) was involved in the commission of the offence."
A254Y: Clause 230, page 138, line 35, leave out subsections (4) to (7)
A254Z: Clause 230, page 139, line 10, at end insert—
"( ) Nothing in this section affects any right of hot pursuit which a person appointed under this section may have under international law."
Amendments A254V to A254Z agreed.
Clause 230, as amended, agreed.
Clause 231 : Marine licensing: Northern Ireland
Amendments A254AA to A254AH
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A254AA: Clause 231, page 140, line 5, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
"( ) in Scotland or the Scottish inshore region, in relation to an offence which the person reasonably believes has been committed within the relevant enforcement area;
( ) in relation to any vessel, aircraft or marine structure in the Scottish offshore region which has been pursued there in accordance with subsection (5)."
A254AB: Clause 231, page 140, line 8, leave out "vehicle,"
A254AC: Clause 231, page 140, line 10, leave out "vehicle,"
A254AD: Clause 231, page 140, line 11, leave out "vehicle,"
A254AE: Clause 231, page 140, line 13, leave out "vehicle,"
A254AF: Clause 231, page 140, line 15, leave out "vehicle,"
A254AG: Clause 231, page 140, line 17, leave out "vehicle,"
A254AH: Clause 231, page 140, line 21, leave out ", vehicle"
Amendments A254AA to A254AH agreed.
Clause 231, as amended, agreed.
Clause 232 : Marine licensing: enforcement in Scottish offshore region
Amendments A254AJ to A254AM
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A254AJ: Clause 232, page 141, line 3, leave out from "activity" to end of line 5 and insert "falling within section 110(3) (activities relating to certain reserved matters)."
A254AK: Clause 232, page 141, line 13, at end insert—
"( ) in any area within the United Kingdom or the UK inshore region, in relation to an offence which the person reasonably believes has been committed within the Scottish offshore region;"
A254AL: Clause 232, page 141, line 15, leave out "the United Kingdom or"
A254AM: Clause 232, page 141, line 36, at end insert—
"( ) In this section "UK inshore region" means the area of sea within the seaward limits of the territorial sea adjacent to the United Kingdom."
Amendments A254AJ to A254AM agreed.
Clause 232, as amended, agreed.
Clause 233 : Enforcement of MCZs in Scottish offshore region
Amendments A254AN to A254AQ
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A254AN: Clause 233, page 142, line 5, at end insert—
"( ) in any area within the United Kingdom or the UK inshore region, in relation to an offence which the person reasonably believes has been committed within the Scottish offshore region;"
A254AP: Clause 233, page 142, line 7, leave out "the United Kingdom or"
A254AQ: Clause 233, page 143, line 3, at end insert—
"( ) In this section "UK inshore region" means the area of sea within the seaward limits of the territorial sea adjacent to the United Kingdom."
Amendments A254AN to A254AQ agreed.
Clause 233, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 234 to 239 agreed.
Schedule 17 agreed.
Clause 240 : Powers of search, examination, etc
Amendment A255 not moved.
Clause 240 agreed.
Clause 241 agreed.
Clause 242 : Powers of seizure, etc
Amendments A255A and A255B
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A255A: Clause 242, page 148, line 24, after "be" insert—
"(a) an item"
A255B: Clause 242, page 148, line 26, at end insert ", or
(b) an item in respect of which a claim to confidentiality of communications could be maintained in legal proceedings in Scotland."
Amendments A255A and A255B agreed.
Clause 242, as amended, agreed.
Clause 243 : Further provision about seizure
Amendment A256 not moved.
Clause 243 agreed.
Clause 244 : Retention of seized items
Amendment A257 not moved.
Clause 244 agreed.
Clauses 245 to 249 agreed.
Clause 250 : Assistance etc
Amendment A258 not moved.
Clauses 250 agreed.
Clause 251 agreed.
Clause 252 : Interpretation of this Chapter
Amendment A259 not moved.
Clause 252 agreed.
Clauses 253 to 259 agreed.
Clause 260 : Procedure in relation to seizure under section 258 or 259
Amendments A259A and A259B
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A259A: Clause 260, page 158, line 16, leave out "copy of a report" and insert "notice"
A259B: Clause 260, page 158, line 18, leave out "report" and insert "notice"
Amendments A259A and A259B agreed.
Clause 260, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 261 to 267 agreed.
Schedule 18 : Forfeiture of property under section 265 or 266
Schedule 18 agreed.
Clauses 268 and 269 agreed.
Clause 270 : Release of vessels detained under section 269
Amendments A259C and A259D
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A259C: Clause 270, page 163, line 11, after "court" insert "referred to in section 269(1)(b)(ii)"
A259D: Clause 270, page 163, line 26, after "court" insert "referred to in section 269(1)(b)(ii)"
Amendments A259C and A259D agreed.
Clause 270, as amended, agreed.
Clause 271 : Power of court to order release of vessels
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A259E: Clause 271, page 163, line 37, after "court" insert "referred to in section 269(1)(b)(ii)"
Amendment A259E agreed.
Clause 271, as amended, agreed.
Clause 272 : Bonds for release of vessels
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A259F: Clause 272, page 164, line 20, after "court" insert "referred to in section 269(1)(b)(ii)"
Amendment A259F agreed.
Clause 272, as amended, agreed.
Clause 273 : Power of court to order repayment of bonds
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A259G: Clause 273, page 164, line 40, after "court" insert "referred to in section 269(1)(b)(ii)"
Amendment A259G agreed.
Clause 273, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 274 to 279 agreed.
Clause 280 : Duty to state name and purpose, etc
Amendments A260 to A262 not moved.
Clause 280 agreed.
Clause 281 : Liability of enforcement officers etc
Moved by Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen
A263: Clause 281, page 168, line 9, at end insert—
"(c) any licensing officer;
(d) any other employee of the Marine Management Organisation"
I shall speak also to Amendment A264. My noble friend Lord Rosser referred in passing to this amendment some nine weeks ago, on
Schedule I leaves most staff of the proposed Marine Management Organisation without the immunity and privileges of a Crown servant, leaving them open to civil or criminal proceedings. They currently enjoy such immunity as staff of the Marine and Fisheries Agency. Under the Bill they will lose that if they transfer to the Marine Management Organisation, as they will cease to be Crown servants and will become public servants. I understand that Crown immunity means that emanations of the Crown are not susceptible to prosecution for offences either created by statute or of the common law. While there may be some doubt as to precisely what is covered by an emanation of the Crown, surely Ministers and their departments are included.
The Government see a need to retain the current immunity but only in relation to one group of staff. Enforcement officers and any person assisting an enforcement officer, by virtue of Clause 250, will continue,
"not to be liable in any civil or criminal proceedings for anything done ... in or in connection with the discharge or purported discharge of the person's functions under this Act".
Why only that group of staff? The Government have conceded the principle of the need for the retention of current immunity with the inclusion of Clause 281, so we are not debating a principle. We are debating why the protection that currently exists should be retained for some staff but not all. What is the overwhelming reason that requires an existing arrangement to be withdrawn from so many?
If Crown immunity is removed by the creation of the Marine Management Organisation, staff other than enforcement officers may also become personally liable for action taken in the course of their duties. One example where that could be a problem is when a licence is withdrawn from an individual and, as a result, they lose their income. Other decisions made by individual officers which could lead to them finding themselves subject to legal proceedings by a disgruntled party might relate to changes in fishing quotas to conserve stocks, or the opening and closing of areas for fishing for the same reason. Threats of legal action over such issues are not unknown, and if disgruntled parties think that in future they can get at the staff direct in legal proceedings, as opposed to proceedings against the organisations, some may decide to do so.
The prospect of court proceedings against them would create uncertainty and worry for the staff affected—staff who have, as now, simply been seeking to carry out their duties in a responsible and conscientious manner. The proposed change in status for the MMO to a non-departmental public body would also exclude the staff from the legal services from the Crown that Marine and Fisheries Agency staff enjoy today.
Why do the Government have to make those changes? Why can they not leave the question of immunity for the staff in the new MMO as it is in the MFA? The Minister said some two months ago in this Chamber that without the specific immunity given in the Bill to enforcement officers, their freedom to perform their duties would be hampered by fear of legal action being taken against them. Why only enforcement officers? Why not those carrying out other duties, including the ones to which I specifically referred? I urge my noble friend to reflect again on the matter. I beg to move.
I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this matter. She is right: we discussed this in an earlier debate on the transfer of staff from the Marine and Fisheries Agency to the Marine Management Organisation. Subsequent to that, last week I met my noble friend Lord Rosser with some representatives of the union involved to discuss the matter. I found that extremely valuable. I hope that I was able to reassure staff about our intention with regard to them, and our recognition of the value both of the staff who are working in the MFA at the moment and of those who will be transferred. I wanted to assure them that within and under the auspices of the Marine Management Organisation, they will be treated appropriately, that there will be sufficient attention to training and development and that there will be opportunities for staff working within the MMO to apply for suitable positions within the Civil Service. I said at that meeting that I am very happy to continue any discussions that arose from the points that were raised. I hope that my noble friend Lady Gibson will accept that I well understand the issues that she has raised and the need to ensure that staff are aware of their rights in the new organisation, and that we are absolutely determined to ensure that the MMO is seen as an organisation that has good HR policies, supports the staff and builds on the huge expertise that is there already.
I hope to reassure my noble friend Lady Gibson that, as is the case for MFA staff now, MMO staff who make a mistake in the normal course of their duties and are subsequently pursued through the courts will be protected by the usual employer liability. I assure her that this is the same process whether the employee is a civil servant or a public servant, and I hope that she will be reassured about MMO staff in the normal course of their duties.
My noble friend also asked about the additional liability protection for enforcement officers who carry out inspections and investigations at sea and on land, often with just one assistant to support them. We are introducing this additional liability protection for enforcement officers because of the very nature of their responsibility; the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, gave an example in our earlier discussions of the particular challenges and difficulties with which enforcement officers may be confronted. The Bill provides immunity to enforcement officers acting in good faith in the course of their duties because of the particular nature of the role and the fact that they may be placed in a difficult situation. It is not necessary to extend this immunity to other MMO staff, valuable though they are, because enforcement responsibilities are different.
The immunity from liability under Clause 281 extends to any person who has Part 8 common powers conferred on them and to any person assisting him or her. An officer enforcing licensing legislation under this Bill will be appointed under Part 8 and will have the common enforcement powers, so they will be an enforcement officer under Clause 281. The removal of liability provided by Clause 281 does not apply if an enforcement officer acts in bad faith and there were no reasonable grounds for him or her to act in such a manner or if their action was unlawful under the Human Rights Act. My noble friend seeks to remove these conditions so that the exemption from liability would always apply, whatever the circumstances. This would mean that the officer or assistant would not be liable even if they take action where there are no reasonable grounds. The Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 and the Sea Fisheries Act 1968 have similar caveats.
Amendment A263 is unnecessary, as all MMO employees will be protected by normal employer liability. We want to provide liability protection because of the particular responsibility of enforcement officers, but the protection is not open-ended, as I have already said. Equally, I reassure my noble friend that if the other MMO staff were to make a mistake in the normal course of their duties and were subsequently pursued through the courts, they would be protected by the usual employer liability. We see no difference between the process for a civil servant and the process for a public servant, as an employee of the Marine Management Organisation is.
I thank my noble friend for that helpful and full reply. With his assurances, particularly the offer to continue discussions if it is felt to be necessary, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A263 withdrawn.
Amendment A264 not moved.
Clause 281 agreed.
Clauses 282 to 285 agreed.
Clause 286: The coastal access duty
Amendment A265 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Moved by Baroness Byford
A265A: Clause 286, page 173, line 19, leave out "the whole" and insert "85 per cent"
We now move on to the last part of this Bill, which looks at coastal access. I hope that I am right to welcome this before I speak to my amendment. It will be a change from having to deal with the nitty-gritty of the other parts. First, I should remind Members of the Committee of my family's farming interests and that we are members of the NFU, the CLA, the Countryside Alliance and the National Trust, all of which are listed. I should also say that as an inland farm we have no interest in coastal access whatever.
Many people have looked forward to the Committee reaching this stage of the Bill and to seeing the Government's commitment to the opening up of coastal routes. People want a safe route ensured, wherever it may extend. As regards the proposed path, a balance needs to be struck between access for individuals, the requirements of landowners, those who have homes and businesses, and MoD land, as well as the protection of wildlife and biodiversity. The responsibility that the Government have acknowledged of individuals taking advantage of the opening up of coastal routes is hugely important. I welcome the removal of occupiers' liability and the inclusion of natural features.
It is the Government's ambition that the route will be established within the next 10 years, although I see from their briefing that, if it has not been fully established by that time, it will be an ongoing process. Therefore, although the target is clearly marked, it may not be achieved in that time. A question has been raised about costs, to which perhaps we will return when we debate later amendments.
The Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in another place looked particularly at coastal access, which, as the Minister will know, was not possible for those of us who sat on the pre-scrutiny committee of both Houses because we were so restricted in time. Paragraph 21 of the EFRA committee's report states:
"There are likely to be economic, health and social benefits from more people visiting, and enjoying, the coast. The South West Coast Path is a very good example".
The report continues that,
"the draft legislation requires amendment and modification before we can be satisfied it is sensible and fair".
The committee believes that it should not be left to Natural England to adjudicate.
The Joint Committee's report recognised that there may be,
"limits on what is practically achievable, given the number of inevitable interruptions to the path".
It also has,
"concerns about whether unrealistic expectations have been created by the description of a continuous coastal path".
The report later refers to the erosion and flood risk that may occur. I also bring to the attention of noble Lords what the committee says about costs on page 92:
"We note the widespread concern that the estimated funding of £50 million over 10 years for the coastal path is inadequate and that local authorities may be left with significant costs. We recommend that the Government produce a detailed estimate of the costs of both establishing and maintaining the coastal path, and subject this analysis to concerned parties for consultation".
I apologise for the length of my introduction, but I feel that it is necessary because we have reached an important part of the Bill.
I turn now to the four amendments I have tabled in the group, Amendments A265A, A267A, A267B and A267C. The Minister will not be surprised to learn that they are all probing in nature. Amendment A265A looks at the provision that the coastal route should cover the entire English coast. I have tabled an amendment seeking 85 per cent coverage just so that we can discuss the issue; it does not indicate a target that we should aim to achieve. However, I challenge slightly the concept of the "whole" coast; it may not be possible to achieve it because of practical difficulties. When we talked previously about the Marine Management Organisation, it was already recognised that there would be problems in working out where the path can and cannot go. In some places it will have to turn inland. What is to happen with land owned by the MoD, the NHS, schools and businesses? How is access to be dealt with fairly? Can the Minister enlarge upon this aspect in his response?
Amendment A267A suggests replacing "enabled" with "allowed" in subsection (2)(a). Perhaps my interpretation of the use of "enabled" is not correct, but it implies that money will be spent to render the land usable. Much will depend on how Natural England spends it, and over what period. What construction standards are to be applied to footpaths and bridges, which authority will pass the work as completed and fit for use? The word "enabled" carries implications beyond "allowed" or "permitted", and is a slightly strange one to use in the Bill.
Amendment A267B is another probing amendment. Will Natural England become involved in building access routes from highways to the coastal path, or will people have to reach it by the best means they can? Similarly, will Natural England become involved in arranging public transport to access points anywhere along the path? Lastly, how do the Government envisage joining all these paths up? Amendment A267C seeks to leave out subsection (3) but in reality is an opportunity to probe the Minister on these points.
The "margin" of land is not defined in terms of feet and inches, whether it is land on both sides of the path, and whether it should extend over the entire length of the route. Is the path to be fenced or otherwise made secure to avoid the danger of people falling over cliff edges? Also not defined is how wide the proposed path will be. There has been discussion of it being 4 metres wide, which is very broad, but nothing is specified in the Bill. I draw the attention of the Minister to the south-west coast path, which I have had the great pleasure of walking along on many occasions. Some stretches are very narrow indeed, and the difference between a path 4 metres wide and a narrow one is marked. It may be that some of the paths the Government propose to open up will be narrower, but no definition is made.
No one has asked me to table these amendments; they have not been put forward on behalf of an organisation. However, I hope that they highlight some of the practical issues we need to debate because the one thing we want to do is ensure that we get the Bill right. It has to be right for the groups I mentioned earlier, such as businesspeople, landowners and farmers. Equally, we want to ensure that the coastal route is very safe for the people who want to use it. I look forward to listening to what is said by other noble Lords when they speak to the other amendments in this group. I beg to move.
We have four amendments in this group, to which I shall speak briefly in due course. I do not blame the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for saying a few general words as we come to this first group of amendments on coastal access. Her amendments are appropriate and I congratulate her on getting them in first, as it were. In many ways this part of the Bill is what I might call the daughter of CROW. It originated most recently in Section 3 of CROW as an aspiration for the future, and here we are, some eight or nine years later, discussing it. A small number of us are survivors of the CROW debates; I was a new Member of your Lordships' House and the noble Baroness was lording it on the Conservative Front Bench as its spokesman. I look forward to locking horns with her again and to looking for areas of agreement.
It has been a long, winding road to get to this stage—although I should perhaps find a maritime metaphor—and this is a historic moment. We on these Benches give our general full support to Part 9 of the Bill but that does not mean that there are not many details to be discussed. The important point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is that this has to work; it must be right. Whether we will all agree on exactly what is right I do not know, but whatever comes out of this has to work. The worst thing possible would be to pass legislation which does not work in practice.
This part of the Bill has longer antecedents than the CROW Act. I have here some extracts from the famous Hobhouse report of 1947, which was the forerunner to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Paragraph 201 refers to beach, shore and inland waters and states:
"In our proposals for new legislation we recommended that beach and shore should be included in the definition of uncultivated land which it would be the duty of the planning authority to designate for public access".
Paragraph 202 becomes quite lyrical and states:
"The love of open air is nowhere more clearly shown than in the use which is made of the coasts of this country. For countless thousands the seaside is almost synonymous with the annual summer holiday".
That has changed a bit but many people still go to the seaside. The paragraph continues:
"Every week-end and bank holiday still larger numbers travel with the coast as their goal, whether they move on foot or by cycle, car, bus or train. It is a curious anomaly that, for the most part, members of the public possess no legal right of access to the shores which they so freely use".
Paragraph 208 states:
"Since it is evident that a general right of roaming over the foreshore and the land immediately behind is a right unknown in law"— that is arguable, but even so—
"we recommend that this land, referred to as beach and shore, should be subject to access designation".
That was in 1947. Some 62 years later, we are now finally getting round to it and we welcome that.
We also support the concepts behind this part of the Bill: the concept of the long-distance route, which will go around as much as possible of the English coast, and the concept of the associated coastal access land—referred to in the discussions prior to the Bill as "spreading room", and now in the Bill as the "coastal margin"—and the interesting concept that the route itself will consist of access land. I do not know who dreamt up that last one, but it is the breakthrough that allows the legislation to be put forward as it is now; the route will not be a right of way under highways legislation unless it happens to follow an existing right of way. It will be access land as such.
The downside of this part of the Bill is its complexity and the way in which the three different parts relate. There is the Bill itself, which talks about principles and the overall scheme. There is the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, now 60 years old, a famous and iconic Act that set up the national parks and created access to the countryside in many places but that went only a certain distance—certainly not as far as the Hobhouse vision would have had it. That Act is now rather battered and hollowed out, but nevertheless still contains the section about long-distance routes. Then there is the CROW Act, which some of us here remember discussing in 2000. In retrospect, it was a missed opportunity to take the long-distance-route part of the 1949 Act and re-enact it in a modern form. There is a complex relationship between those three different Acts, which not only makes it difficult for us to understand now and will lead to complexities in the legislation, but will lead to great difficulty for people in understanding it when the Bill is, as we hope, enacted. Nevertheless, that relationship is what we are presented with and, despite its complexity, it ought to work.
Amendments A266 and A267 in our names are to probe the suggestion in the early part of this part of the Bill as to whether we are talking about one route or several routes. The Government talk about a coastal route around the coast of England, yet the Bill itself refers to whether it can be one or more routes and what their status will be. Will the result of each report that comes from Natural England on each part of the coast be a separate route legally, or will it all join up eventually into one?
Amendment A269 refers to the timescale that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to. This is an attempt to turn the aspiration of the Government and Natural England into rather more of a commitment in the Bill and to test how serious the Government are about doing it within 10 years.
Amendment A321 extends the "must" from carrying out the duty as a whole to the specific production of the reports. That is already implied but the amendment is, again, to get a commitment from the Government that it is not just the scheme that is a "must" but the whole 10-year programme on the English coastal path.
Amendment A267ZA—we are back to Zs again—refers to the issue that the noble Baroness referred to: the status of the path and the status of the rights that people will have on it. I agree that "enabled" is a slightly strange word. I would describe it as a new Labour word—enabling people to do this, that and the other. In the context of walking along the coast, people are "enabled"; I would simply delete that and put "may" so that it is something that they are allowed to do and that they have a right to. I am not too sure about the word "allowed" in legislation; it sounds a little like, "You can be allowed, but we might disallow you in future". It is a slightly odd word.
The noble Baroness said that her amendments were probing, and I accept them in that spirit. However, because they would remove the access land—the coastal margin land, the spreading room—and because the path will be over such land, they would tear the heart out of the legislation. I am sure that that was not her aim, but that is technically what her amendments would do. Like her and other Members of the Committee, I look forward to the Minister's reply.
I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. So keen was I to join the debate on this new part of the Bill that I failed to acknowledge that he had amendments in the group.
I declared at the start of Committee my interest as a grower, farmer and landowner. I am also a member of the NFU and the National Trust. However, I do not own any land that is adjacent, or even proximate, to the coast to the extent that it is likely to be affected by a coastal path or even a likely diversion.
It is not surprising that noble Lords opened with some general comments, for which I hope we can be forgiven, because this is a major part of the Bill. We welcome from these Benches the recreational opportunities which a coastal path can bring.
I am very familiar with the Wash coastline. My wife is the county councillor for Holbeach, which has the largest section of the marsh. The high watermark is bordered by a sea bank, on which there is a well used footpath. Her division stretches some seven miles out to sea to the low watermark. It is an area where the coast is accumulating, borrowed from Yorkshire in the main. Surprisingly enough, the land level to sea is considerably higher than the land inside the sea wall, which was reclaimed some 50 to 100 years earlier. It is an untypical part of the English coastline, but below high water there is very little political activity; there is just the sound of the odd seal clapping and plenty of bird life.
We could not have a discussion about the coastal access element of the Bill without getting into a debate about whether the route should have been a continuous circuit around the English coastline or whether it would mean a path broken up into lots of different sections. In principle, we would support the creation of a continuous trail around the coastline. To this end, I agree with the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which would secure this single route within 10 years of the commencement of this part.
Nevertheless, I am nervous about taking this idea to extremes and so making a mockery of the good intentions contained within the coastal access provisions. There are many reasons why a continuous path, although desirable, simply would not work in practice.
The Wash Estuary Strategy Group, to whose project officer, Tammy Smalley, I am grateful for her briefing, reports that there are at least two significant areas on the Wash which do not as yet have rights of way. The private land of the Sandringham Estate has meant that a pathway near to the coast connecting King's Lynn and Hunstanton, for example, has not been allowed. The obvious security risks connected with the estate mean that it would be difficult and dangerous to force a public right of way along the coast here.
Another concern would be areas where wildlife or grazing livestock might be located. Perhaps I may be permitted again to use the Wash as an example, where the cattle often move to the outer sea banks at high tide or drink from the water troughs located on them. This is where the coastal access route would be located. These cattle can be dangerous: recently, a man was killed when, ignoring advice, he walked near to the cattle with his dog off the lead. In Suffolk, there have been many examples of sheep drowning after being disturbed by walkers with dogs. There are complex difficulties about driving a continuous path around the coast which must be taken into account. It is no simple matter.
Furthermore, it is not just animals that we should be concerned about. The Wash contains two RAF weapons ranges. Despite the signs, people still often roam out on the ranges, threatening their own safety and that of those who use them. It would be irresponsible to drive a route through areas that are potentially dangerous for both people and animals just in pursuit of the romantic dream of a pathway around the whole coastline.
The coastal access provisions of this Bill are meant to open up new opportunities for people who want to walk along the coast. That should not come at the expense of securing people's safety and landowners' security. Moreover, a constant theme in our discussions about the marine elements in the Bill has been to try to provide a balance between conservation and development. Many of those arguments are also relevant here; although we are very keen to secure coastal access for people so that all can enjoy the pleasures of walking by the coast, we also need to ensure that wildlife is not disturbed. There are many areas in which that can be seen to be a problem. Poole Harbour, for example, is a Ramsar site, an SPA and an SAC, and is covered in SSSIs. Part of the reason for these designations is to protect the wintering and nesting of birds. If the path is due to run directly through the centre of this zone, how do the Government propose to maintain their obligations and protect important wildlife?
In principle, we would like to say that we support the amendments suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Nevertheless, a look at the practicalities of the situation and the concerns raised by those who will be affected prevents me offering my full approbation. The amendments proposed by my noble friend Lady Byford take these issues into account. We welcome the principle of a more continuous route and of a coastal margin designed,
"for the purposes of its enjoyment by them".
We simply argue that we do not wish this principle to be taken to extremes and cause difficulties for both landowners and walkers alike.
I look forward to the Minister's response in the hope that he will have found a solution which will incorporate both greater access to the coast and will take into account the problems which we have raised here.
I do not think that I need to declare an interest in that my involvement in the countryside is in a part of the United Kingdom to which this part of the Bill does not apply—namely, Scotland. However, I am a member of the Scottish National Farmers' Union, the Scottish National Trust and the Scottish counterpart to the Country Land and Business Association.
The main point about these amendments is that we must be practical. My noble friends Lord Taylor and Lady Byford have made that point. The idea of a continuous route is extremely attractive—although it is not continuous, because at one point it gets to the Scottish border, to which the Bill does not apply. I am not sure how Scots would react to people continuing their way around the coast without legislation, although in Scotland we have access to virtually anywhere, as far as I can make out. That is why this part of the Bill does not apply to Scotland.
There will be impediments to a continuous path. It is ridiculous to be so keen on the idea that it must be continuous that you try to overcome all impediments. Equally, we must appreciate how attractive it is to be able to walk continuously along an attractive coastline. So balance is important here, and I hope that we pay a lot of attention to the various amendments that point out the problems when they arise.
The idea expressed by my noble friend Lady Byford—that 85 per cent of the route might be accessible, rather than 100 per cent—is a good one. I do not think that she means that to be put in the Bill, because it might be the wrong percentage. However, she is making a very important point and I support her amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is a little bit idealistic, but that is one of his great strengths. He is an idealist about the countryside but, equally, he is a practical man, and I am sure that when it comes to the point he will see the problems of a completely continuous route.
This has been a welcome introduction to Part 9. I welcome the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, opened our debate on this important part of the Bill. I fully accept that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, are about balance. As they suggested, as we debate the Bill, there will be lots of discussions about getting the balance right and about the issues of conservation, safety and landowners' interests. Those are all relevant factors to our debate. However, I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about the historic opportunity with which we are presented. There will clearly be many challenges to getting it right—to getting continuous access to land around the coast.
We should be in no doubt about the attractiveness of the proposition to the many people who enjoy walking along our coast at the moment and the many more who I hope will take the opportunity to do so in the future; nor should we ignore the potential for tourism and local businesses to embrace the coastal access pathway. I hope to enhance their businesses as well. There is a great opportunity here. We want this to be done in the spirit of consensus. Natural England's work with local authorities will be important in trying to get as much ownership as possible for the proposals. Of course there will be tensions. No doubt in a later group we will discuss appeals, and I understand the importance of those.
At the start of our debates, noble Lords need to know that the Government are listening to the points they make. We want to get the balance right. Equally, we want to press on with developing the coastal access path. The potential is enormous. I understand that we make more than 70 million trips to the undeveloped coast each year—in other words, not the seaside towns. It is thought that walking is the single most popular activity along the coast. If we can improve access, more people will be encouraged to take part. Improving access will also give people the confidence and certainty that, wherever they arrive at the coast, other than where the land is excepted land, there will be clear, well managed access in either direction and they will be able to enjoy a rich and varied natural environment.
The Bill enables the creation of a new right of access for people to walk round the majority of the English coast for the first time and a right of access to other coastal land such as beaches, dunes and cliff tops. It will also help local authorities that have already put so much work into providing immensely successful coastal paths.
I was interested in the examples used by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, concerning the Wash in his particular part of the country. Most noble Lords referred to the south-west coast path. Anyone who has used it can see what a wonderful path it is but also how it works well when it links up at regular points with public transport, which, at least in the summer months, is regular; I am not so sure about the winter months. Local business people and farmers have also taken advantage of it. It is a model for what we would like to see in the rest of the country.
I understand that work commissioned by Natural England found that people said that they would visit the coast more often if a clear path existed around the coast and if more access was available. We expect an additional 1.2 million extra visits to be made to the coast as a result of the new access. I hope that that is a modest expectation; I suspect that, as the path is developed, there will be many more additional visitors to the coast than that.
In Clause 286, the Secretary of State and Natural England have been given a new duty to provide this improved public access. This is the starting point of our whole approach. Members of the Committee have talked about the need for balance, with which I agree. Our approach is flexible and, before the Secretary of State finally decides on the route, local people will have a say. To begin, Natural England will propose a series of long-distance routes around the coast of England under the power contained in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, as amended by the Bill.
Under the 1949 Act, Natural England is required to consult every national park authority, joint planning board, county council and county/district council through whose park or area the route passes. Members of the Committee may be aware that one problem with including lists in primary legislation is updating them because they become outdated. Therefore, we are amending the 1949 Act, updating it to further include all persons with a relevant interest in affected land, each local access forum, English Heritage, the Environment Agency and the Secretary of State responsible for defence and national security in the list of people that Natural England must consult. Natural England will also advertise its proposals, and anyone else with an interest can submit their views. That will be a fully consultative process.
As I have said, the key to a successful route is for Natural England to draw on the knowledge of local people, including the access authority, who know best what is appropriate for their coastline. We will debate local authority involvement a little later, but Natural England is already working closely with coastal local authorities, which are helping with a review of current access to the coast, and it will continue to fully involve local authorities as far as possible. Once the report has been drawn up, landowners and certain other interests will have a right to make representations if they are not happy with the proposals. The Secretary of State will be obliged to consider these representations before deciding whether to approve Natural England's proposals.
I am, of course, aware that there are those who argue that we should have an appeal system as well. I have been in discussions with a number of noble Lords on that and have no doubt that we will come back to that point later.
Coastal access will largely be delivered through the right of access in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which provides a number of safeguards for landowners, including categories of land which are excluded from the right of access and the ability to restrict or exclude the right of access when required for land management or certain other purposes. I stress that, although in some places the route will use existing rights of way, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said earlier, no new rights of way will be automatically created as a result of the legislation. The new right of access in the Bill will be the CROW right, which is flexible to further changes in land use, including developments. In addition to the existing reduction in occupiers' liability under CROW for natural features, we are extending this reduction in occupiers' liability to cover man-made features as well.
Natural England will set out the approach that it will take in a coastal access scheme, which it will consult on, submit to the Secretary of State for approval and then publish. It has already published a draft scheme in order to give an indication of the kind of things that the scheme might cover. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was right to mention, we have had recommendations from the EFRA committee and the Joint Committee. Following recommendations from the EFRA committee, we have made changes since the draft Bill so that Natural England must review the scheme from time to time, with at least one review completed within three years of the day that it was first approved. This is an essential safeguard for the kind of balance to which Members of the Committee have referred.
So we have the scheme that sets the parameters in which Natural England will take forward proposals, and that is then subject to a review within three years of the day on which it was first approved. That will be very helpful, because it will enable a review in the light of experience from the first period of operation. Natural England must also publish a report of each review, and in line with the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, I have tabled an amendment requiring the Secretary of State to lay a copy of the approved scheme before Parliament.
On the issues of balance and conservation, let me make it clear that the proposals coming from Natural England must be sustainable. In order to achieve that, it must take full account of the social, economic and environmental considerations. Clause 287 makes it clear that the interests of the public must be weighed against those of landowners and others with a relevant interest in affected land. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, wildlife and the environment must be taken into account, as must both manmade and natural heritage. The scheme will set out how Natural England will approach this task.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, tempted me to talk about devolution, but she herself clearly answered the point: I am sure that Scotland will welcome walkers going over the borders if they are able to do so. That may depend on a number of other matters that we shall shortly discuss, including ferries, but as far as Wales is concerned we have made provision in Clause 300 to enable the National Assembly for Wales to make an assembly measure or measures in relation to coastal access in Wales. We know that the Welsh Assembly Government are also committed to improving public access to the coast of Wales.
I come now to the group of amendments. The current provisions of Clause 286 place a duty on the Secretary of State and Natural England to secure two objectives. The first is that there is a long-distance route or routes for the whole of the English coast that is accessible to the public for journeys on foot and, if appropriate, by ferry. The second objective is that there is associated with the route or routes a wider margin of recreational land available to the public on foot for enjoyment in conjunction with the route. Both those aims gained broad support from the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. We intend to achieve those objectives in stages—which answers one of the first points raised in the amendments, particularly the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. It means that where a stretch of coastal route is completed and the Secretary of State approves Natural England's coastal access report, the public will have access to that individual stretch on a day appointed by order after a preparation period during which the route itself will be established. That will enable early access to new stretches of the route.
I should have referred earlier to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about how we have chosen to amend the CROW Act, and indeed the 1949 Act, rather than starting with a clean slate and proposing new legislation. I often wonder what my noble friend Lord Whitty would have said if he had had to deal with coastal access when the CROW Bill was going through your Lordships' House. There are certain advantages to using existing legislation, because that combines the creation of long-distance paths with the provision of associated coastal marginal land that is available to the public for open-air recreation. The structures and mechanisms necessary for establishing a route and open-air recreation over it are already set out in the 1949 and 2000 Acts. I know that going through this is not so easy for your Lordships because it seeks to amend other legislation, and that that is difficult. I also realise that noble Lords will ask me how we will ensure that the public understand all this. We shall need to take up those challenges. However, there is logic to the way in which we have drafted the legislation to amend other pieces of legislation.
A number of points have been made. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is concerned that there is no definition of "coastal margin" in the Bill. That is simply because it has to be tailored, in consultation with local interests such as access authorities and landowners, to meet local circumstances. Having discretion here allows us to ensure that a balanced approach can be taken. There is no specified width for the margin. In some places, it would be only about four metres plus the foreshore, but in others it would take in beaches, headlands, dunes and cliffs, so the width will be decided taking local circumstances into account. However, there will be parliamentary scrutiny as we intend that a Section 3A order under the CROW Act will specify descriptions of coastal margin. Land covered by buildings is excepted land under paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 to the CROW Act. Land covered by the Military Lands Act is also excepted. There is a series of excepted land categories which we will no doubt debate. The noble Baroness asked what that meant with regard to the path. As with the coastal margin, it will depend on what is decided locally. In some cases, it will be possible to have a path that seeks to skirt round the land; in other cases, that might not be so easy. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred to notices warning people not to go into areas where the military may be firing guns. One might think that that is a bit of a no-brainer but providing information to the public will be very important. We shall debate signposts and maps. A lot of work will have to be done to educate the public, landowners and others about people's rights and to provide information on good practice.
I understand that the noble Baroness's amendment with the 85 per cent figure is a probing one. At the moment, we think that 30 per cent of the coast has no access at all, which means that 70 per cent has access. However, it is fragmented. Often there are gaps in access so it is not possible to make a continuous journey. In other places the access may be very constrained; for example, a footpath might be right against the cliff edge, which does not provide a good quality coastal experience. I do not like the 85 per cent figure proposed by the noble Baroness because I think that it is arbitrary. However, I am not in a position to say what the figure should be. As I said, 8 per cent of the coast is developed, is MoD land or is excepted in some way. As we have discussed, in some cases it may be possible to circuit that 8 per cent. Therefore, we should be ambitious in this regard. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, suggested, we should desire, and aim to realise, a coastal access path which really does go round almost all our coast. However, there will be challenges along the way, and a need for flexibility and discretion. The fact that we have the ability to develop separate paths, and to open up some paths before the whole network is complete, gives us great flexibility.
The noble Baroness also raised the question of highways, and whether Natural England would become almost a highways authority, responsible for linking highways to the path. This is where our friends the local authorities come into play. Where they are willing to act, we wish them to be fully involved in planning and consulting on new access. They have powers to create new routes to the coast. I have already referred to the south-west coast path, which is an excellent example. That would be the responsibility of the local authority.
The point made by noble Lords that local authorities have a big responsibility for doing preparatory work on behalf of Natural England is the answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. The more local authorities are involved and the more interest they have, the more likely it is that they will want to ensure that there is appropriate access from the highway to the coastal path; and the more likely it is also that they will wish to encourage public transport operators to ensure that there is a decent service available to enable people, where it would not be easy for them to walk the whole path, to get access to it at regular intervals.
I thank the Minister for giving way. He knows of my interest in the integration of the coastal path with the existing network. He rightly points to the potential role of local authorities in this matter. Will the Minister say who is likely to fund this project? Where is the money coming from to finance the connection, which no doubt would have to be made not under CROW but under highways legislation, and would involve compensation? Who is paying for it?
I will deal first with the question of money spent on the coastal access path. The costs are estimated at £50 million over 10 years. They will fall to Natural England. We will deal with that as part of the overall settlement that will come to my department and then be allocated to Natural England.
If a local authority decided that it wanted to undertake works itself, which it would then be responsible for, the costs would fall on the authority. There is no reason why a local authority would not want to do that. If it believes that opening up the coast would, for instance, enhance tourism activities in the district, it would give serious consideration to the matter.
I hope that I have answered the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about opening some parts of the route first, rather than opening the whole route at a later stage. The current drafting is designed to provide for the route to be opened in stages. I assure the noble Lord that, if he thought that this was a loophole allowing us to avoid providing a route all around the coast, that is not our intention. A route around the whole coast is certainly the ideal that we are working towards.
I have not read "enabling" in the way in which other noble Lords have, and I have not found myself concerned about it. The language is consistent with the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. We hope that access can be achieved through consensus and with the agreement of a landowner. We need to have the ability to put a route through when a landowner is being unreasonably obstructive. I have set out the safeguards for the landowners where they can make representations, and we will come on to the question of appeal. I did not read enabling in the way in which noble Lords did. I will look at it in the light of what noble Lords said to make sure that it does not have the meaning they think it has. However, it is not meant to be a wiffly-waffly, maybe-there-will-maybe-there-won't thing. It is meant to be very clear that members of the public should be enabled to have access. I am happy to check that to make sure that there is no loophole there.
I am entirely sympathetic to the point about the 10-year time limit, because we want to see a completed coastal access path, and we want it to be completed within this timetable. However, we are a little reluctant to put it in the Bill.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. On the amendment, which is in my name and that of my noble friend, might he be a little more forthcoming about what he sees as the prioritisation during the 10-year period, even if it is not a specific, exact 10 years? Prioritisation around the coastline is going to be very important. He said that he was in listening mode and that the south-west coast path was a model for what we would like to see. That is reflected by contributions from all sides of the Committee. Certainly, I would expect that. Does he accept that there may be some value even at this early stage in indicating—not in the Bill but in the debate and to the so-called stakeholders—that the south-west coast path may indeed be the model for other parts of the country, but that that would imply leaving it alone for the time being? That is a sensible basis on which to show that a sensible balance has been achieved in the south-west.
On every point that the noble Lord has just referred to, the south-west path has, over a large number of years and with so many participants, dealt with that balance, whether in relation to the balance between recreation and conservation, or between conservation and the working and farming environment. Will he expand somewhat on the Government's attitude? Is it the intention in Clause 286(4) that, in discharging the duty, Natural England and the Secretary of State should give some indication of how the stages should be approached? Is the intention that there should be more tweaking of the existing coastal path, pre-eminently in the south-west; or is the intention that it should be the model for a major extension of coastal access around other parts of the United Kingdom? People not only in the south-west but elsewhere would accept that the good model that we have there, to which he has referred, should be left alone for the time being and used as a model for the rest of the country.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord for indicating just now that these sorts of priorities will be the subject of parliamentary scrutiny. I am sure that we shall want to return to that point.
I hope that the noble Lord is not going to press me too far on this. I would like to see whether I can provide some further information following today's debates. I fully accept that if you have a very good example of a coastal pathway where a lot of the issues we are going to be discussing have been teased out, where there has been agreement and where a lot of people are using the pathway, then there are many lessons that we would wish to learn from it. He was also suggesting that if you already have a successful pathway, it might be best not to fiddle around and tinker with it, but to get on with those areas where coastal access is either difficult or where it warrants more proactive work by Natural England working with local authorities. I agree with that, and I am sure that it will be taken into account by Natural England.
My reluctance to go much further is of course due to the fact that we have provisions in Clause 288 whereby Natural England must prepare a scheme that sets out its approach. The whole point is that we want Natural England to give a great deal of thought to that. It has already given it some thought. Assuming that the legislation is passed, we want Natural England to give a great deal of thought to the approach it should take. The Secretary of State can approve the scheme, reject it or approve it with modification.
I am not trying to duck the noble Lord's question, which was very good. I have answered it in terms of a general principle. As we debate this part of the Bill over the next day or so, I will ensure that the issues raised are fed into Natural England's work on developing a scheme. The noble Lord has raised a very useful point. However, I hope he will accept that Governments always resist timetables, and we will resist this one. I do not want him to think that by doing so we are not committed to the work being undertaken within that period. I hope I have convinced him that, like your Lordships, the Government believe that we should embark on this duty with enthusiasm.
I thank the Minister for his comments on my amendments. I shall read them with interest. Basically, on this part of the Bill, we are very much on the same side. I have two points. On the timetable, the only point I would make is one that is occasionally made to Governments—that the present Government may not be in power for ever. Although I know they cannot bring themselves to envisage the possibility, it is just possible that they will not be in power for ever. That is why we would sometimes rather see things in the legislation than be given an indication of what a Government want to do.
Such is my confidence that that will not happen that I do not specify 10 years on the face of legislation.
That is why the Government are wrong to resist my amendment. Any Government who are confident that they will be in power for the next 10 years are asking us to buy a pipe dream. They may be in power, but maybe not.
If she will excuse me for doing so, I also wish to comment on the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, about the width of the route. As a general rule, four metres is a reasonable minimum width. In certain circumstances, however, the path will inevitably be narrower, particularly if it goes through what is otherwise excepted land, which therefore would not be part of the access land, for whatever reason—the path may go through a farmer's field, for example—and where there are very clearly established boundaries to the path. The path may take a route along an existing right of way or concessionary path which has hedges, walls or other boundaries that are already established. It would be entirely unreasonable in every respect to tear those down and insist that the path must be four metres wide. It may well destroy its character. Will the Minister comment on just how rigid the four-metre minimum will be? Will it be flexible when it is reasonable for the path to be narrower than four metres?
I hope I can reassure the noble Lord. Clearly, there will need to be flexibility. I think that I have already said that the position of the coastal route will have to be tailored to local circumstances in consultation with local interests, such as access authorities. I mentioned four metres simply as an example. There will of course be circumstances where there is no alternative. These matters will have to be teased out as the proposals are taken forward.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. It is worth setting it in the context that we have moved on to another specific part of the Bill. I particularly take the point that the Minister has just made. We holiday in Cornwall and the path from St Austell which drops down to Charleston is very narrow. The sea and hedge are on one side and walled gardens are on the other. There is no way that one could do anything but use it unless one decided that it was not an appropriate route, which would be ridiculous. I slightly smiled when the Minister paid great tribute to the south-west route, which I enjoy walking along, as I do the north side. I humbly suggest that the success of that route is due to the fact that it was done by voluntary agreement rather than being forced through in the way that this Bill is. However, that is another matter and it is perhaps a little naughty to raise it.
Following his answers, I also wanted to ask the Minister whether he knows how many paths there are around the proposed route. Is the coverage 20 per cent or 40 per cent? He said that Natural England had been having conversations with local authorities and I wondered whether a figure is known. I am not pushing the Minister for that information now.
Can I go away and try to find that information? The information that I have is the information that I gave. At least 30 per cent of the coast has no legal or recognised access at all. While 70 per cent does, it does not provide continuity of access or what is described as a "quality coastal experience", whatever that means. As I said, I will try to find some more information and give it to the noble Baroness.
That would be very helpful. The Minister also spoke of a review within three years, which I read about in the proposals, and he explained that the route will be set up in different stages. Will the review come into being as soon as a certain number of the stages have been achieved, or is he implying that it will not happen until the whole path has been completed? That would mean a huge gap. I should think that the Committee would wish the Government to give an update on how it is progressing.
The Minister also implied that there will be an order under Section 3A of the CROW Act. Will the order be made available to us before the Bill leaves Parliament, or will it be produced after the Bill is passed, if we pass it?
My next question picks up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. I scribbled down straight away the costs to local government. The Minister said that it could be seen as an attraction and something that local government would want to do, but at present all local government is under huge pressure to achieve what it is supposed to do legally without taking on extra burdens and responsibilities. Will any of the £50 million allocated for 10 years be made available to local authorities to do the work that they are being asked to do? It is not clear. We know that the Government have made £50 million available over 10 years to Natural England, but we do not know what Natural England will do with the money or how it will be allocated under its different responsibilities. That issue may come back on Report.
On a lighter note, the Minister said that he wondered how the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would have reacted if this issue had been raised under the CROW Act. I can tell him that the noble Lord would have hit the roof. We spent many hours on that legislation and the Minister should be glad that he was not the Minister responsible for it. On one occasion we sat right through the night, starting at 3.30 one afternoon and rising at 10 minutes to eight the next morning. Some of us would have found it difficult if that legislation had contained any more responsibilities. That is a slightly throw-away line, which I mean genuinely. There are hugely important issues in this Bill, and we will benefit from the fact that they were not attached to the CROW Act.
I am grateful. Perhaps I may answer one or two factual points. On the question of the Section 3A order, a draft paper has been published saying what is in it. We cannot bring it forward before Royal Assent, but I am happy to circulate it to noble Lords after today so that they know what is likely to be covered by it.
The review within three years is of the scheme itself. We need to refer to Clause 288, entitled "The coastal access scheme". That scheme sets out the approach that Natural England will take when discharging the coastal access duty. That is the scheme within which it will bring forward proposals. It is that which will have to be reviewed from time to time. Under Clause 289, the noble Baroness will see that it is intended that the first review will take place within three years of the scheme first being produced.
That is important because it ensures that the scheme can be changed—updated—in the light of experience over a relatively short period. That provides a safeguard for everyone that once Natural England has experience of developing its proposals, there is an opportunity to revisit the overall scheme under which it brings forward those proposals. The scheme is the plan under which Natural England discharges its responsibilities under this part.
It will be informed by the practical work that it has undertaken in the first three years.
We have had a long debate. At this stage, I will read Hansard carefully tomorrow. I again thank those who have taken part and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A265A withdrawn.
Amendments A266 to A267C not moved.
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
A267D: Clause 286, page 173, line 26, leave out "along the length of the English coast is" and insert "may be made"
I shall move Amendment A267D and speak to the cluster of our amendments in the group addressing the same general interest. We have had an interesting debate about the difficulties of imposing a route all around the coast. It was made clear by my noble friend Lady Byford and others that many parts of our immediate coastline are unsuitable for public access and that any path there may well have to find an alternative line. It follows, therefore, that much of it will also be unsuitable to be designated as coastal margin. I want to talk about coastal margin now. My amendments would ensure that coastal margin will be designated only where it is appropriate.
Amendment A267D would ensure that there is no duty to have some coastal margin along the entire route. It is clear that there will not in fact be coastal margin along the entire length of the route. There may be many areas where the terrain would make it completely unsuitable. We discussed that in our previous debate. The Bill's drafting should reflect that and not risk raising public expectations to unrealistic levels. The unfortunate belief, which is still prevalent, that people have the right to roam over every piece of land, regardless of whether it is someone's private garden or is under intensive agriculture, shows how important it is to get the correct message out from the start. It is not just inconvenience to those with an interest in the land that is at stake here, it is also the safety of the public. The exclusion of coastal margin from Clause 287(2)(a) means that Natural England will be encouraging people to wander off into coastal margin knowing that it is not safe ground for them to walk over.
It goes without saying, therefore, that we do not agree with the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that there should be access to land that has been specifically designated as unsuitable. The absence of a coastal margin from subsection (2)(b) means that access to this land will not even add to the public's appreciation of our coastline, which is the whole point of this part of the Bill.
My Amendments A336B and A336C would restrict coastal access to the seaward side of the route. As the many documents that have been published about this Bill make clear, looking to spread access in this direction is common sense and would enhance the public's ability to appreciate the coastline. Spreading landwards, however, not only takes the public away from the very feature that they are there to enjoy but will have a much greater impact on others currently using their land for their own private purposes.
My three Amendments A336A, A350A and A362L in this group seek to ensure that the coastal margin is at least identifiable where it has been designated. The hope is that "a physical feature" is a sufficient description of the boundary between land with public access and land without it. That is very optimistic, unless Natural England intends to build a fence, wall or hedge along the margin where there is none. Given that it has set aside only limited funding for this route, this clearly will not happen. The stated impossibility of mapping the coastal margin goes to show only how confusing it will be for the public. If even those designating the route cannot clearly identify which land is accessible and which is not, how can the public be expected to do so?
Finally, my amendments to new Section 3A seek to limit the excessively broad powers that the Government are taking on to specify the coastal margin. Will the Minister explain why the powers that are given to a Welsh Minister in Section 3 of the CROW Act, and are briefly set out lines 8 to 12 on page 185, are so different from those that are given to the Secretary of State? In new subsection (4) on page 186, there appears to be a Henry VIII power of the most powerful sort. Will the Minister say what he imagines this power will be used for? I beg to move.
I have two amendments in this group, which I will come to in a minute. I noticed that, in our discussion on the previous group of amendments, noble Lords declared interests. I do not think that we need to declare an interest at this stage because we are still in Committee, but because I am about to talk about rock-climbing interests I remind noble Lords of the interests that I declared at the start of Committee many weeks ago. My amendments would not do what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, said they would do, but I will come to them in a moment.
We are talking about the coastal margin: the access land associated with the route. One of the noble Lord's amendments is about the safety and convenience of the coastal margin land rather than of the route. For a start, I do not quite understand the relevance of safety and convenience, particularly convenience, to coastal margin land. I understand the meaning of "convenience" when it relates to the route itself—where it goes, how easy it is to walk on it, how direct it is, how close it is to the coast, the views of the sea and so on—but I do not understand how that applies to the coastal margin. What on the coastal margin does the noble Lord think should be convenient?
Secondly, on safety, I would be very concerned if safe access to cliffs, for example, had to be considered, because what is safe for one person who might be competent at climbing the cliffs might not be safe at all for other people who might not be competent at climbing the cliffs and might not have the proper equipment. The principle must be that people are responsible for their own safety on the coastal margin, and Natural England and the people who are associated with Natural England are responsible for providing information about what sort of land it is. They should not have a namby-pamby attitude and tell people, "You can't go there because that cliff might fall on your head". As a climber, it is my responsibility to decide.
The noble Lord also tabled an amendment to determine whether the coastal margin should be on the seaward side or the landward side. Clearly in many cases the seaward side will form most of the coastal margin, but to restrict it to the seaward side and not have it on the landward side would be ludicrous in many areas because land on the landward side will very clearly be coastal land; so we do not agree at all with that amendment.
Amendment 358D could relate to wild birds. I understand why it has been tabled, but it is misguided for several reasons. If you are going to have restrictions on access for wild birds, 14 days will not be enough in many cases, so restricting the period to 14 days would not be appropriate. Many wild birds nest on cliffs and restrictions are necessary to prevent people from disturbing them, but statutory restrictions, as I have argued before in your Lordships' House, are not the way forward. The way forward is to continue the existing extremely successful system, which protects birds on such cliffs and works through collaboration between conservation groups, particularly the RSPB and local RSPB people, the British Mountaineering Council, BMC representatives and local climbers.
There is already an extremely comprehensive and sophisticated system to prevent climbers from disturbing wild birds when they must not be disturbed. I refer any Members of your Lordships' House who might be interested in this matter to the BMC website: www.bmc.co.uk. Under "Crag Access" and "Nesting Restrictions", they can download a poster that shows more than 100 detailed restrictions that are in place for this year. For climbers, who are anarchic people, such a voluntary system works. If it has been negotiated by their colleagues and representatives, they not only abide by it but ensure that climbers in the vicinity who are not abiding by it do so. It is peer pressure, I suppose, which is a pun; I have stopped people climbing where they should not climb. A system such as this really does work, and when it works it should not be interfered with. It is also extremely flexible, because you cannot tell in advance when the birds are going to start nesting, when the chicks will hatch and fly away from the nests and when you can go back to the cliffs. The system works on a week-by-week, sometimes day-by-day, basis, and tells you when you can go and when you cannot. It works. Formal legislation is not the way forward, although there is formal legislation if it is necessary. So far, it has been found not to be necessary.
My two amendments in this group are also, coincidentally, about climbers' interests and climbing. Amendments A336D and A358E refer to circumstances in which a physical feature that marks the boundary of access land is a cliff or a rock face. I put this amendment down as a result of experience under existing CROW legislation. Reasonably, a cliff face is a boundary of existing access land, which has been mapped as such. The difficulty is whether that boundary—a cliff face, a crag—is accessible. There are instances where landowners and local authorities have taken the view that it is the boundary and that it is not accessible, where, clearly, under CROW legislation it counts as mountain, moor, heath or down because it is a rock face and is clearly included in the descriptions. Therefore, I am putting this matter forward simply to raise the existing problem and to ask not to have it on the coast. It is clear that the landward boundary of access land on the coast might be a rock face, on top of which is farmland. My proposition is that that rock face should be accessible on foot; that is, people should be able to climb it.
As this is my first intervention on this Bill, I declare an interest as a farmer and landowner, and as a former chairman of the Countryside Agency, which I am sure most Members of the Committee will know has responsibilities under the CROW Act and for the management of existing long-distance trails, including the south-west coast path. When I was chairman, we also created trails. As such, I am very much in favour of Part 9.
I am in favour of Amendment A350A because for Part 9 to work effectively we need clarity on exactly where this Bill will apply and where these new access rights will apply. Where is the spreading room? The phrase "spreading room" is not understood by 99 per cent of the population and probably will not be understood for some time to come by 95 per cent of the population. It must not be forgotten that different rules of liability will apply on this land, which is designated by Natural England in its report. There may even be different rules, such as those applying to dogs, to which we will come later.
Clarity is essential and it is vital that there should be no doubt in the minds of everyone where visitors are or are not allowed. This is important, as I am sure was in the minds of the proposers of the amendment, not only from the point of view of the landowner and farmer or even a conservation body which might own the land, because it is right to have clarity for management purposes. Most especially, I believe that clarity should be there from the point of view of the walker. Few countrymen understand that for many walkers coming from the town, the countryside can be a worrying or even a frightening place, in the same way as some countrymen get nervous in parts of our urban environment.
However, the townsman has many worries in the countryside. It is absolutely right to encourage him or her to overcome these. Not only is encouraging access important from the point of view of the physical and mental health of our population, but I also believe as a landowner that it is very important to encourage greater understanding of the countryside for enhancing the rural economy. I cannot remember the last figures for the south-west coast path but, just before I left the Countryside Agency, it brought hundreds of millions of pounds to the south-west economy. More access of that sort would be very useful to the rural economy.
The townsman has many worries, such as, "Where do I park my car? Where am I allowed to go? Where is the path? Am I trespassing? Will I get shouted at? Where is the local A-Z? Why are there no signs?". Obviously, we will come to this in Schedule 19. I believe that, as far as possible, we must assist visitors to overcome all those worries by giving them clarity where possible. I recognise that it would be over the top if Natural England had to map every square metre or linear metre of this coastal access. It will be obvious to the locals where there is likely to be, or where there is, an element of confusion.
I support this amendment from the point of view of the local owners—conservation bodies, the National Trust or whoever it might be—but more so from the point of view of the visitor. Whether it is intended or not, what attracts me most is the concept of Natural England using the interested local to highlight where ambiguity or the potential for misunderstanding might exist. I hope that the Government will run with Amendment A350A.
I should like to extend what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has just said about Amendment A350A. I have a non-interest, in that I am not a member of the National Farmers' Union, but I believe that it has a legitimate point in looking for clarity on this issue, just as do the users who may come from an urban environment, as the noble Lord has just said. There is a particular problem in that, although we are coming away from the concept of "spreading room", it has had a currency among stakeholders for some time. The difficulty is that the spreading room in particular does not seem to match up precisely with the margin concept defined under Clause 299, which has no reference to the spreading room.
Working farmers will be anxious that these concepts are clarified before the Bill completes its passage through the two Houses. In particular, liability on the coastal path seems to be clearly defined, but liability of what may happen in the so-called spreading room on the margins of the path is not so well defined. Although the briefing that Natural England has given in its draft scheme provides some reassurance, it does not give all the reassurance that both parties to the agreement that will have to be reached will require. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, we do not want huge numbers of people challenging what will and what will not be on a map, but clearly what will be on a map might be of considerable relevance when it comes to the issue of liability, which is why we should probe the intentions of the Government. I hope therefore that the Minister will say something about these concepts, their significance and the extent to which they should and will be defined, not necessarily in statute but during the process that will follow.
I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken to this interesting group of amendments, which has raised some important issues. Amendment A267D raises a matter of considerable principle. If we accepted the amendment, it would mean that we would not necessarily have an objective to establish a coastal margin along the whole of the English coast. We attach a great deal of importance to the public having access to the whole of the English coastline as far as possible, but not where such access would be inappropriate, which I believe was the burden of the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. Some land is excepted from the right of access and restrictions can be put in place, if required, for matters such as nature conservation. We understand the anxieties reflected in this amendment but they have to be allayed by the concept of excepted land and the way in which land will be designated. The amendment might look fairly modest but it strikes at the principle of what we are seeking to achieve—namely, access to the English coast.
Amendment A277A would mean that the Secretary of State and Natural England would have to have regard to the safety and convenience of those using the coastal margin as well as the coastal route. I can see the proper anxieties about this, but I accept entirely the argument put by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, with regard to the coastal margin. The coast can be a dangerous environment and Natural England will certainly have to have regard to safety in putting forward a proposal for the coastal route. The Secretary of State should equally have regard to the very important issue of safety in improving any such route.
However, the coastal margin is a different matter. It is important to allow people to make their own decisions and we do not want to exclude anywhere that might be dangerous in such a way that we restrict the opportunities available to the more adventurous to explore what the coastal margin can provide. I shall therefore reject the amendment as a step towards a nanny state in an area in which we want to preserve aspects of freedom for the more adventurous among us. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that not just in the spirit in which I present the argument but also in that presented so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. People take enormous risks on sea cliffs, for example. I saw a programme the other day about the southern coast of England, not regarded by mariners as the most hazardous, where people were shown climbing up not simply vertical cliffs but those with very pronounced overhangs. Having conquered the cliffs, they were leaping a considerable distance back into the water below, having ascertained that it was deep enough. By heavens, that looked like risky behaviour, but those people had made the decision to try it. If they derive a huge amount of what on the whole looks like safe fun—people are not bent on wrecking their lives when they engage in such activities—they should be allowed to do so. I am with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in his desire to protect the opportunities available to the more adventurous.
Amendment A278A would mean that the Secretary of State and Natural England would have to have regard to the desirability of both the coastal route and the coastal margin adhering to the periphery of the coast and providing views of the sea. For land to be part of the coastal margin, it must fall into the definition of coastal land and therefore has to be adjacent to the sea. I know that noble Lords are pressing for a definition of the coastal margin but, given that the amendment is expressed in fairly general terms, perhaps I may respond in an equally general way. When we are talking about the coastal margin, we are talking about land adjacent to the sea.
Amendments A336A to A336C deal with the ability to include land within the coastal margin and the route strip up to a physical feature. It is important that there is clarity about what land forms part of the coastal margin, and the point of these subsections is to allow Natural England to give a clear boundary to the coastal margin and enable it to make sense of the geography. Therefore, I am going to resist the issue of a map, despite the blandishments of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who has added his support to the Front-Bench arguments. I do not like the idea of a map, but I accept the issue of definition and the argument presented by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and with considerable force by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that people will need to know what the spreading areas are. The obligation is certainly on Natural England to ensure that the signage is clear, that people know where the boundaries are and that we know the nature of the coastal margin. However, a map is a different matter.
A map raises significant issues. It is certainly the case that a statement must be submitted to the Secretary of State of the reasons that Natural England intends to act. It needs to submit a map to the Secretary of State or, if not a map, a statement giving its reasons for not acting in accordance with a request for a map from anyone who makes such a representation. Natural England will have to justify why it is not prepared to provide a map. However, the line of the route is going to be included on a map because that will form part of the report that Natural England will present to the Secretary of State. Where a map is required to give clarity over the extent of the coastal margin, that map should certainly be provided. Where these issues may be in doubt and anxieties are raised—a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, gave voice and, to a certain degree, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor—a map will be provided. However, the Government do not believe that maps will be necessary for clarity over where the coastal margin lies in most situations. In some areas it will be necessary and judgments will be made about where such a necessary map needs to be defined in order to allay people's anxieties, but in most situations we will not need a map in order to define the coastal margin. If we did, we would be asking Natural England to engage in a very expensive mapping process. The money could be better spent elsewhere when these issues are clear and where there is no dubiety and uncertainty among the public of where the coastal path goes and where the margin lies because it can be so clearly identified.
I am reflecting the fact that the English coast is a varied landscape, and in some areas a map may be absolutely essential for definition. I give a clear undertaking that we expect maps to be provided in those areas; that will be an obligation. Where a map can help to provide clarity of the route, location and extent of the coastal margin, it will be provided. However, let us take one area that has been held up as a wonderful example of an existing coastal route around the south-west. Noble Lords who have had the pleasure of walking along it share the experience with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. She said that you do not need much definition of the coastal route if there is a garden wall on one side and a drop of several hundred feet on the other with a narrow defile in between. That route is clearly marked and does not need too much in the way of a map. Although I do not pretend to be the best navigator in the House—even on land, let alone at sea—I cannot remember having any anxieties about how to keep to the south-west coast path.
However, there are other parts of our coastal landscape where the definition will need to be clearer and I therefore indicate that Natural England will be under an obligation to give that clearer definition, which may well require a map to be provided to anyone who intends to follow the path in that area.
Amendments A336D and A358E seek to ensure that where the boundary of the coastal margin is drawn to meet a physical feature, where the feature is a cliff or rock face the boundary will always be drawn to include it within the margin. We have always said that we intend that the description of land that will be coastal margin will include cliffs that are adjacent to the foreshore. Where the margin is drawn wider to meet a physical feature, we want Natural England to have the flexibility to respond to the particular circumstances in an appropriate way. In such cases, a decision on whether any particular cliff will be included will depend on the detailed work and assessment during the implementation phase.
I hope the noble Lord will accept that the intent is to meet the concept of the amendment and that we have drawn the Bill in terms that will allow for flexibility in decision-making in those areas to take account of the features that the noble Lord said were so important.
Amendment 358D seeks to remove the ability in Clause 293(5) for the Secretary of State to specify descriptions of land in England which are coastal margin. The Secretary of State's powers are not quite Henry VIII powers; they would be limited to extending the definition of open country to include "coastal land or coastal land of any description". This power is already contained in Section 3 of the CROW Act and was rejected as inadequate following public consultation as it did not go far enough for us to reach the objectives with regard to the path and the coastal margin. It did not provide the continuity of access which the consultation process confirmed is of great importance to the public. The Committee will understand why the Government are eager to defend the Bill, which gives additional powers—not Henry VIII powers—to meet the public concern that there should be continuity with regard to the path.
Amendment 358D, taken together with Amendment 358F, would reduce the powers of the Secretary of State to below those currently provided in the CROW Act because it would remove the Secretary of State's power to modify by order the provisions in Part 1 of the CROW Act in their application to land which is coastal margin. It would take away the Secretary of State's powers to apply the provisions of Part 1 of the CROW Act in a way which is appropriate for the complex situation of the coast. I understand the noble Lord's anxieties about the powers allotted to the Secretary of State. All legislation in which powers are offered to the Executive should be subject to scrutiny and the Executive should be challenged on its intent, but I emphasise that all we are doing here is building on the provisions of the CROW Act and making sure that we have got sufficient powers to deal with the complex situation of the coastal path and the adjoining margin.
Amendment 362L would add a new sub-paragraph after paragraph 6(2)(b) to Schedule 19 to allow Natural England to erect and maintain a notice or sign which indicates, including by provision of a map, the direction of a route or extent of an area of coastal margin. The powers in Schedule 19, together with the powers that we already have in the CROW Act, would enable Natural England to put up such notices without the need for the amendment. We have given thought to the issues to which the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Taylor, gave voice because we are concerned about this, but we are certain that we have the powers for Natural England to put up signs that identify or provide information about the route, warn of obstacles or hazards along the route and other signs relating to the route. Notices provided under the powers in CROW may inform the public of an appropriate matters which relate to access land. These notices may include maps, if they are defined as necessary because of the nature of a particular part of the coastal environment, and we envisage that in many cases they will do so—for example, when the powers are used to erect information boards close to car parks or other places where the public may be expected to seek to gain access to coastal land. Natural England will have to consult with the owner and occupier before erecting any such notice or sign, and may meet or contribute to the cost to others of erecting such notices and signs.
We are certain that in parts of our coastal environment these powers will be necessary. There is no cause for undue anxiety about the way in which they would be exercised because they are provided to meet the fears expressed in the debate that the public may not be sufficiently aware of either the route or the extent of margins without adequate guidance. That is the nature of this provision and, on that basis the amendments—which I hope were probing—can be safely withdrawn.
On my two amendments about cliff faces the Minister said two things: first, that the Government wanted flexibility and, secondly, that it would be all right. I shall read carefully in Hansard what he said but, given that we are not talking about traditional CROW land but coastal margin as defined, it is difficult to understand how a cliff face could not be defined as coastal margin if it is joined on to the rest of the coastal margin. Does the Minister have any ideas of how this might happen? There might be areas with special vegetation that have to have exclusions or restrictions—I have already argued that that is not necessary in the case of birds—but that would not be excepted land. I am fairly satisfied but, as always, I shall enjoy myself going to sleep reading Hansard.
I am reassured by the Minister's reply. He always shows the virtue of spreading room, and an analysis of the focus of his response shows a certain degree of movement and an acknowledgement of the importance of making sure that the coastal margin was fit for purpose for visitors who may not be aware of the situations in which they are placing themselves. It is all right for the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in his enthusiasm for cliff climbing, and for the Minister, who every day shows that he is fearless in the hazardous sport of handling many different briefs for the Government on the Front Bench, but members of the general public may well believe that by designating a path as a coastal path it is reasonable to assume that it has been made accessible and safe for them to use.
The Minister acknowledged that it may well be necessary to map and I welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, for the idea of mapping. This will be important for the landowners and even more important for visitors. What discussions have there been with the Ordnance Survey about its pathfinder range of walking maps? Some mapping of the coastal margin might be necessary for the utility of the path.
As has been rightly pointed out, the debate about the coastal access path is not only about the path but about all that goes with it, and the coastal margin is an important part of that. The coastal margin may not exist on some parts of the coast where the coastal path does not go and I hope the Minister accepts my argument in that respect. However, having heard his response and valued the debate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A267D withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Greaves
A268: Clause 286, page 173, line 28, leave out from "otherwise" to end of line 29
I hope this group will not take us long. I shall speak also to Amendments A271 and A273, which are about something called "relevant excepted land". Excepted land, as the Committee will remember, is the various types of land which, under Schedule 1 of the CROW Act, are not access land. There are obvious examples such as buildings. Traditional CROW access land includes land within 20 metres of dwellings, golf courses, aerodromes and so on. I am reminded of the somewhat surreal debate we had on the CROW Act about whether a helicopter pad was an aerodrome. There were some exciting debates on that Act.
These amendments probe the question of relevant excepted land. Amendment A268 asks why a reference to "excepted land" is needed in the objectives. We understand that excepted land will exist and the coastal margin will go around it, or through it, or whatever the configuration is. However, it is not clear to me why it is necessary to set that down in the objectives.
The other amendments relate to what Clause 286(6) means and why it is needed. At this stage I am just asking what it means, and if I get a sensible answer I will not pursue it further; however, if I do not get a sensible answer, perhaps I will. I beg to move.
Amendments A268 and A273 would remove the exception to the requirement for the margin to be accessible to the public where the land fell within any category of "excepted land" listed in Schedule 1 to the CROW Act. The exception was put in so that the margin could be established without the report having to describe every single area of excepted land—that is, land covered by buildings and their curtilage. It is necessary for the sheer practicability of the project; otherwise, we would be involved in the description of every exception in great detail.
Amendment A271, which would remove Clause 286(6), would make it clear that it was the duty of Natural England and the Secretary of State to exercise their relevant functions regarding the second big objective: making a margin of land along the length of the English coast, the issue we debated a few moments ago on the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. Land within the margin may already be accessible to the public under the provisions described in subsections (5)(b) and (c), or Natural England and the Secretary of State may decide to use other mechanisms to make such land available. This reflects the fact that the legislation envisages that the principal means of creating any new right of access is by way of an order under Section 2(3A) of the CROW Act, inserted by Clause 293 of the Bill. That is the essential mechanism of the Act.
This is an important point. It shows how the legislation will be implemented. I hope the noble Lord will accept that he is right to press us on how we intend to effect this legislation and that he will give the Government credit for having thought through this issue and putting the mechanism in the Bill to guarantee that we can do it.
I am grateful for those replies. I think I understood the first answer, and I think that I think it is sensible. The Minister will be pleased to hear that.
"Relieved", he says. I think I understand his second answer, which is that the wording is there to make it clear that the primary mechanism—the main mechanism, in most cases—will be a declaration under Clause 2(3A) of the CROW Act. Am I right, though, that subsection (6) does not mean that other methods are not allowed, and that the Secretary of State and Natural England could use other methods if, in exceptional circumstances, they thought that it was the best way to do it—specifically, those methods under subsections (5)(b) and (c)?
The noble Lord is being generous in his response to our position. I said that an order under Section 2(3A) would be "the principal means", but it is not exclusive. He is right; there may need to be other measures.
On the basis that these other means are permitted but not required, I consider that to be a sensible answer as well. I am thoroughly satisfied with the answers I have had—subject, once again, to my reading Hansard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 268 withdrawn.
Amendment A269 not moved.
Moved by Lord Greenway
A270: Clause 286, page 174, line 5, at end insert ", or
( ) not land which may be required for future port development."
I shall speak also to Amendment A360, which along with this amendment stands in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. Over the past hour or so we have touched on some of the more natural hazards that might meet would-be walkers on the coastal path; we now move to some of the more commercially induced hazards that they might face. I am seeking some kind of assurance from the Government that the exemptions that we are going to talk about in a second are something that they will take seriously to avoid the risk of the general public coming into any sort of danger.
Amendment A270 does that in a slightly different way from the rest of the amendments in this grouping that seek to amend the CROW Act. This one would involve adding to the Bill, with regard to land that has been set aside for coastal access, the words,
"not land which may be required for future port development".
We live in difficult commercial times and our ports are suffering, along with many other forms of transportation. We all hope that things will turn around soon and that ports will again be able to look towards expansion. Many of them have existing plans, and it is important that land that has been recognised as set aside for future port development should be taken into account in the Bill and thereby exempted. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, has an amendment that seeks, in more detail and more specifically, to deal with the same issue, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say. We both seek the same end and the same response from the Government.
Amendment A360 suggests an addition to the exceptions listed in Schedule 1 to the CROW Act—that is, to include land used for the purposes of recreational boating facilities, including marinas, boatyards and clubs. It is essential that the path does not stray into such areas, principally on grounds of safety, because some boatyards operate fairy heavy equipment throughout the day and night which could pose serious risk to people who did not know what was going on. Likewise, marinas contain boats which have some very expensive equipment on them, so unfettered access to such areas for the public would bring its own security problems. I cannot think that any yacht club would be particularly happy if there was access in front of its premises and it found thirsty walkers diving into the bar for a quick refresher en route.
There are a number of concerns here. Ports as a whole should be exempt on security grounds alone. Access is restricted already, so there is no way in which the public can walk through port areas. I am keen to hear whether the Government are prepared to give an assurance that some of those areas will be exempt from the proposed coastal path. I beg to move.
As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, has already said, Amendment A361, in my name, appears in this group, so this may be a convenient moment for me to speak to it. In so doing, I declare a tenuous interest as a pensioner of the P&O Group, which I left some 32 years ago. It is an unusual thing to do these days to resign from any large organisation, so that may have been foolish. Your Lordships will realise that my pension is not of great size, so it is not relevant; and I certainly have had no conversations with P&O or Dubai Ports on this subject.
As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said, my Amendment A361 is narrower than his, its specific purpose being to add to the categories of excepted land in the CROW Act land which has been identified for future port development in port master plans. By its very nature, port infrastructure may be very long-lived. Asset lives of more than 30 years are very common, and a return on major investment takes many years, even decades, to be realised. The process for port development needs careful and detailed consideration, even before the formal planning process and the seeking of planning permission can start.
Surely no one would want it any other way. We would not want port operators bringing forward expansion plans willy-nilly or in a haphazard way. Such a short-term and scatter-gun approach would lead to chaos, with no real benefits for the economy of the country. That is precisely why I commend the Government on the introduction of master plans for ports, which not only help the port operators to clarify their own strategic plans but also enable planning bodies and transport network providers to devise their own strategies, taking into account the port's aspirations.
The Bill before us gives us a real opportunity to enhance that planning process. It would be utter folly to encourage or require port operators to embark on producing their master plans without granting them protection from interference in the tracts of land that they might seek to develop at a later date. That is why I propose that land which has already been identified for future port expansion in port master plans is included as a category of land across which access to the coastline is not permitted.
Perhaps I may draw the Minister's attention to the guidelines from the Department for Transport to ports local authorities, issued on
"The main purposes of port master plans are to ... clarify the port's own strategic planning for the medium to long term ... assist regional and local planning bodies, and transport network providers, in preparing and revising their own development strategies; and ... inform port users, employees and local communities as to how they can expect to see the port develop over the coming years ... It does this by setting out ... how the port's development plans integrate, support and inform the regional and local economic, transport and planning policy context as the result of close liaison with local and regional planning bodies during the production of the master plan".
There follows the coup de grace—perhaps the Minister who is replying might like to consult his colleagues in the Department for Transport—because paragraph 26 reads:
"In the future, a master plan could also usefully feed into the marine plans proposed under the Marine and Coastal Access Bill".
There we are. Those guidelines were issued in December. I therefore sincerely hope that the Government will not resist this very simple but extremely necessary amendment.
It is a very long time since I have entered into the discussions on this Bill in its extraordinarily long, drawn-out Committee stage. I do so now only because of past experience which I think is relevant. I shall speak later on coastal paths and explain my interest and experience there. I speak and intervene at this stage because I am a former director of Associated British Ports and am, in broad terms, sympathetic to the amendments proposed. I am a good deal more sympathetic to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Geddes, and I shall explain why.
It is of course very important that properly designated port land and land set aside for port development is protected, but I recall, in the days before Associated British Ports took over from the old Ports Authority, that a very large area of the old Cardiff docks and most of the old Bute Docks, used for coal exports, was set aside by the authority as perhaps one day being necessary for port development. Some of us were pretty sceptical about that, because we thought it very unlikely that the huge area set aside would ever be used again for ports, even for such tasks as timber storage, and we were acutely worried that the designation of this land by the port as being useful for development would prevent important urban redevelopment. I recall when I became Secretary of State being particularly keen to ensure that no excess land was reserved by the ports which would prevent the urban regeneration which was one of my most important priorities as a Minister. If the land originally set aside by the Ports Authority in Cardiff had been blocked, we would not have been able to carry out the massive development of south Cardiff which has been such a hugely important event in recent decades and—dare I claim it?—a great success. Fortunately, Associated British Ports took a more sensible view and listened to our representations.
My one anxiety, therefore, is that we do not reserve land that is not needed for ports. That is why I welcome particularly what my noble friend said. I from the start thought that his amendment, more carefully and more narrowly drafted, had great advantages, but I was struck particularly by the quotation that he produced about the process of consultation leading up to the development and approval of a master plan. That seems to provide the sort of protection that I am looking for. My simple point is to say, yes, we should protect port land, but can we have an assurance from the Government that the procedures that they will support will avoid the kind of false preservation of land that I have described?
I shall speak in the name of my noble friend Lord Taylor to Amendments A362A and A362AC and support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, in this group, to which his name is attached.
The noble Lord's first amendment encapsulates a very important measure and seeks to modify some of the extensive powers that are currently envisaged in the Bill. We support it in principle; the question that arises is where something of that importance should be placed in the Bill to ensure that it is accorded sufficient emphasis. Clause 286, as the first clause of this part of the Bill, is bound to be the one that receives the most attention, but the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, would achieve a very similar effect in Clause 293. On the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, on whose word would it be that this land was necessary for a master plan? The discussion that has centred on the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, gave a fairly clear indication of how that could be achieved.
On our own amendments, I declare my peripheral interest as a farmer and landowner in Scotland. I think that there will be general agreement in the Committee on the Government's approach of taking up the extension provided in the CROW Act to include coastal land as the legislative framework for this part of the Bill. We have now had eight years over which the application of the Act has developed; much experience has been gained of the opportunities that it offers and the constraints that it puts on land managers. The necessity for mapping has meant that the implementation has been rather slower than had been envisaged, but the experience is there none the less. At the same time, one of the great strengths of the Act has been that the detail of excepted land has been clearly defined. Has there been any need to vary those exceptions, using any exceptional powers, as the process has developed? That is a critical issue when we come to consider what similar powers should be available under this Bill. I and a number of other noble Lords whom I see here were involved in the passing of the CROW Act and well remember how each of these excepted items was debated at some length. With the time available on this Bill, the time that we can spend on the detail that we look into will be very truncated.
After Clause 293 of the Bill, our Amendments A362A and A362AC, like the others in the group, seek to add distinct exceptions to the list in Schedule 1 to the CROW Act. Amendment A362A is mainly a probing amendment about land associated with sporting facilities. At present, Schedule 1 to CROW has, as excepted ground, golf courses and race tracks. It is a great relief to see that a government proposal in their paper on possible ways in which they will implement Section 3A is to add school playing fields; it looked like a great mistake that they were not included in the first place. There is the question of other playing fields—or areas where there is a charge for access; that is the easiest way in which to sum up that particular constraint on the countryside.
I think that the Minister was promising to offer the Committee more detail on when he thinks the proposals for a coastal path may require him to amend or modify what has already been found adequate in the context of CROW. The fact that that is proposed raises very great concern; my first concern is on the question of sporting facilities. As someone who has declared an interest in the running of a golf club in Scotland, my concern has been raised by the draft regulation which talks of bringing areas of golf courses into coastal access, not by amending the Bill but by order. I notice that the draft regulation qualifies that by saying that there is a wish to balance the interests of walkers and golfers. From my understanding, it is hard to see what sort of balance you would be able to achieve.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, is an accomplished golfer and captain of your Lordships' golf team. I do not expect that to colour his final opinion in any way, but it may help him to have a bit more understanding of what I am about to say. In any quality links golf course, when there is a competition day, there could be three or more holes running along the shore. On such a day, continuously for about eight hours, there will be groups of four golfers setting off every seven minutes, which means that there will be altogether about 272 golfers out on the day expecting to get their round over in a little over three and a half hours. The progress of the speed of play is a vital ingredient in the satisfaction that is enjoyed. A hold-up on any hole at any time does not just hold up the people on that hole but produces a ripple effect right throughout the whole field to all the ensuing players. It would not be long in resulting in 272 angry and frustrated golfers who find that it is taking them about four and a half hours to complete the course. If there is to be any balancing, this is one of those areas in which there will have to be a permanent alternative route so that, as at present in Scotland, there is no access near the playing area if golf is in play.
The second issue to consider with reference to the Government's paper is the huge invasion of privacy involved in the case of a new coastal route that passes within 20 metres of a dwelling house. Noble Lords are probably aware that 20 metres is barely the length of one-half of the Library. This should be considered only if it could be argued that the path was not visible from within the dwelling, probably by being behind a wall with no apertures or something like that. There may be areas where there is a wish to squeeze the path by, but to have it going close to somebody's window would be a great burden on the people living in the house and would affect the value of the property. Equally, we have received representation from the National Farmers' Union about access within 20 metres of buildings occupied by animals. In this case, there are safety and security issues, which, like many other things, were debated at length under the then CROW Bill.
Our last amendment is more precise and is to do with safety concerns and biodiversity. The provision says that salt marshes and mudflats should be excepted. We have discussed some of the issues that arise when there is public access to those areas; one wants to avoid having to plaster a pristine situation with endless safety notices. That is the sort of thing that I have seen on the south-western coastal path, where more or less every hole in the hedge on the top of the cliff was marked with a sign saying "Danger—do not go further". There is a slight difference in the amount of responsibility that landowners and possibly the access authority will feel in dealing with casual walkers; it will not be dealing with mountaineers, who, in spite of their anarchic tendencies, would have great loyalty to their own organisation.
Many of these areas of salt marshes and mudflats will in fact be below the springtide level, but nearly all will be of importance to wildfowl. The amendment is supported by the briefing that we received from the conservation bodies represented by the Wildlife and Countryside Link.
As a footnote, I wonder what the Government envisage about their power on coastal access if—I say this in a light-hearted way—at any time they find that this legislation is exploited by boatloads of illegal immigrants. I am sure that it would not be considered welcome if all those using the coastal path were required to carry identification or a passport.
I support A361 in the name of my noble friend Lord Geddes. It was supported very well by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, who spoke from his experience with ports which is how I will speak for a few moments today. I do not support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, as strongly because it is much more widely drawn and I hope that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Geddes is the way that we will go.
My knowledge of ports comes from years of working and developing my own quays in Plymouth. I know what it is like to develop over land and across rights and sometimes try to divert people who trip over wet fish, fishing nets and whatever and how dangerous that can be. Having worked there for so long, I was able to move to the Port of London Authority where I worked for 10 years. It is a very different port with a long estuarial river which is at present developing the London Gateway DPWorld development. For that, there is a very long lead time for planning and consultation. There is a long time to build such a great thing and a very long time to get the money back at the end of the day. Therefore, I am keen to support the idea of master plans for ports. They seem sensible. While I and the PLA support in principle improved rights of access to the English coastline, it believes, as do I, that the future development of land held for the provision of additional port capacity should not be prejudiced by the application of coastal access rights arising from this marine Bill as it stands. Therefore, we support this amendment, and I am very keen to hear the Government's reply on the idea of master plans for ports.
My Amendment A362AE is in this group. Unlike the other amendments in this group, which have led to an interesting debate so far, my amendment is an attempt to relax the provisions in Schedule 1 to the CROW Act, to delete parks.
Some of the debate we have just had has been interesting and there are some good points that will have to be answered, but some of the rest started to take us back to the debates we had eight or nine years ago under the CROW Act that got a bit surreal. I have a vision of all the tourists, walkers and people who want to play on the beach being driven off by hordes of illegal immigrants who will land on these beaches because they are now access land. Previously, they would not have gone there because it was not access land. I think the noble Duke had his tongue in his cheek towards the end of his speech. Illegal people do not obey the laws; that is one of the difficulties. We are dealing here with access for people who will obey the laws—at least we hope they will.
The only one of the previous amendments that I want to comment on is the one to exclude salt marshes and mud flats. I would make the same point as I made previously about cliffs. If there are exceptions, they should not be by means of excepted land and removed altogether, they should be by means of exclusions and restrictions which can be imposed sensitively according to local circumstances and used when they are needed and relaxed when they are not needed. The principal of the CROW legislation generally is that if a permanent exclusion is not required, temporary exclusions and restrictions should be used.
I want to talk about parks. The pre-legislative scrutiny committee discussed this at some length and, as the report said, did not reach a unanimous conclusion but did reach a majority conclusion. Recommendation 93 reads:
"We support the need to ensure that individuals' property rights and privacy are protected. The majority of us"— of whom I was one—
"felt that the Government should give careful thought to what is included in the 'parks and gardens' exemption, but this was not the view of all; some welcomed the exemption as it stands. This is clearly an issue to which Parliament will wish to return when the Bill is introduced".
The amendment is the first occasion for Parliament to revisit this matter.
There are two fundamental issues. The first is that if there are large areas of parkland, however it may be defined in the coastal situation, which block the route of the coastal path, and if an agreement cannot be reached, the coastal route will have to make a diversion inland. It may be large, it may be small, but there will have to be a diversion inland. If it is a large park, there will be a large diversion. It will obstruct the route. Is that reasonable?
The second is whether there is a difference between parkland as defined in the CROW Act with reference to mountain, moor, heath and down in relation to the coast. I would argue that there is. It has already been agreed by the Government that ordinary farmland will not be excepted land in exactly the same way as it is in the CROW Act. In other words, the coastal route might have to cross farmland or take a strip of land on the edge of farmland which would be better than crossing it. That will have to happen if the coastal route is going to take place sensibly in some areas. If that is the case for farmland, why is it different for parkland, golf courses or other similar large areas of land that might block the path?
When we excluded parkland—with misgivings from some of us—when we debated the CROW Bill, it was on the basis that the vegetation within parkland is usually different from the surrounding vegetation. It is usually improved or managed in some way which is different from the mountain, moor, heath and down that surrounds it. That was the justification for excluding it. Gardens, particularly small gardens, are different. Nobody wants to see people marching through people's gardens as a general rule. But when we are talking about parkland, which can be large areas of land, it is different. The reason it was excluded under the traditional CROW Act access land is because the nature of the land is usually different. That is not necessarily the case along the coast, because access land will not be defined on the basis of the vegetation categories of mountain, moor, heath and down. It will be defined on the basis of whether it is coastal land. I am interested to see how the Government will define that—in particular, whether it will be defined flexibly and sensibly according to the situation in the area.
The other argument about why it should not apply on the coast is if the coastal path can go along the edge of the parkland or other land such as a golf course, that is not really any different from the situation on ordinary CROW access land. If a park is surrounded on three sides by CROW-access land, you can walk its perimeter. The edge on the coast is the coast. The argument is that there is no reason why, under those circumstances, the coastal route cannot go along the seaward edge of the park if that is physically, sensibly possible.
I am grateful to the Ramblers' Association for a briefing on this; I am not going to read it all out by any means.
However, it points out that Natural England, which will bring all this in, disagrees with the automatic exception of parks on the coast. It believes that not allowing it the flexibility to align the route along larger and more extensive parks and gardens would result in lengthy inland diversions. Reference has been made to how successful the south-west coastal path is. Yet, according to Devon County Council, after more than 30 years of negotiation the path has nine major gaps covering a combined distance of 12 kilometres. There is no doubt that those gaps reduce the number of people going along it, and result in large diversions. The Ramblers' Association provides information on particular instances on the Solent Way and the south-west coastal path where they are diverted a considerable distance inland. By any sensible estimate of the situation, they really ought to be going along the coast. Because the parks go right up to the coast, and they will not allow access along there, it cannot be done. Under these circumstances, the new English coastal route will not be as successful as it ought to be, and Natural England ought to have the power to put the coastal route between the particular park concerned and the beach in the most sensible way.
Finally, the Ramblers' Association provides a number of examples where this has happened successfully, which would not be allowed under CROW legislation but currently works by agreement with the landowners. Sometimes you can get agreement and sometimes you cannot. My amendment would exclude parks from the list of exceptions in the CROW schedule. I am not suggesting that simply excluding is necessarily the right way to do it. There may be more sophisticated and flexible methods. However, the principle is that a large park ought not to be treated any differently from a farm where a farmer would be in exactly the same position as the person who owns the park.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has quoted the Joint Committee, of which I was also a member. Clearly, we were not able to discuss the coastal access Bill as fully as we would have liked because we had only nine weeks rather than the 12 that one should. As the EFRA committee was also looking at it, our discussions were slightly curtailed. While he rightly says that some of us wanted the Government to reconsider the parks and gardens exception—he quoted "the majority" in the committee's report—no vote was taken. I question whether, had there been a vote, it would have been the majority, but that is just a personal interpretation. However, we clearly need to address the issue. The noble Lord stropped at that, but the committee went on to say that,
"in any event we encourage the Government and Natural England to co-operate with owners and occupiers in voluntary agreements outwith the legislation".
That is not quite what he said.
The EFRA committee had a chance to look at it in greater detail. In its record of our views on page 63 of its report, talking about parks and gardens, it says:
"We agree with the Government that parks and gardens should be excepted land under the coastal access proposals. Nevertheless, Natural England may attempt to negotiate voluntary access agreements with landowners of parks and gardens if this produces the most appropriate alignment".
I say that because other Members of the Committee should be aware that we had a controversial discussion. However, in our committee, we were so limited. Knowing that the EFRA committee was dealing particularly with this issue, I felt that I should share that with Members of the Committee.
I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken in a wide-ranging debate on this group of interesting amendments. It will come as no surprise to Members of the Committee that I will reply first to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. Anyone who is kind enough to flatter me about my golfing prowess—inaccurately, I might say—immediately goes to the head of the list.
I wanted to answer one specific question of the noble Duke, which is of the greatest importance and sets the terms of this debate. He asked whether any of the excepted land categories in the CROW Act had been amended. The answer is no. We have made no amendments at all to those excepted categories which are an important part of the bedrock of the debate. They relate very much to the questions we have most recently heard on gardens and parks, which I shall come to in a moment.
The noble Duke also asked a specific and important question. The list of excepted land in the CROW Act is not access land for the purposes of Section 2(1) of that Act, such as buildings and their curtilage and land used for the purposes of a statutory undertaking. That is the crucial aspect of excepted land, which helps to govern almost every anxiety that has been expressed in this debate about the extent to which there may be intrusion. There are clear safeguards and principles in the CROW Act that this Bill builds upon. There is no right of access to buildings and their curtilage, and there is no proposal for such in this Bill except where local decisions are taken and agreements are struck, which Members of the Committee have advocated attempting in certain circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was eloquent in talking about the fact that that might be necessary. However, that is different from statutory provision, and I am grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for giving me the chance to be emphatic about that.
The CROW Act is framed in a way that does not prevent changes in land use. Land may become excepted land at any time if some change or development occurs so that it falls into one of the excepted land categories in Schedule 1. That is the formal basis of our legislation. Proposed new Section 3A(4) in Clause 293(5) allows the Secretary of State, by order, to modify the provisions of Part 1 of the CROW Act,
"in their application to land which is coastal margin".
Concerns and questions about what changes may be made to the categories of excepted land as they affect land that is coastal margin have been raised in this debate by noble Lords speaking both on their own behalf and on behalf of many organisations that have identified anxieties. We have held a number of discussions with the leading organisations to clarify the position.
We have published two papers on the order and excepted land. The first sets out the main measures that we expect the order that will follow from this legislation, if it becomes an Act, to contain. The second paper, Accommodating Future Development Needs, sets out specific ways in which we will ensure that coastal access is appropriate and consistent with the needs of landowners, including any future changes in land use. Once the Bill has received Royal Assent, we shall consult further on the final contents of the order under the affirmative resolution procedure for both Houses to debate and agree, if they so do. The order will, of course, not come into force unless approved by a resolution of each House. We expect that process to identify other categories of excepted land as a result of the kind of discussions that this debate has aired. That reflects ongoing discussions on these matters.
Many ports in the United Kingdom presently fall into the category of land used for the purposes of a statutory undertaking. The effect of Amendment A270, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, would be to prevent potential access being made available on any land identified as suitable "for future port development". Meanwhile, Amendment A361, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, would have the effect of inserting into Part I of Schedule 1 to the CROW Act a new category of excepted land—namely,
"Land identified within the master plans of port and harbour authorities as designated for future port development".
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, also commented from her experience of that matter.
I recognise the importance of land used by port authorities and land that they may need to develop in future. However, while port master plans are important documents, they are not statutory. They should help to inform subsequent decisions on rights of access in a way proportionate to the likelihood of the operational development taking place, but we should not automatically except such land from any right of access just because there may be future development. I think that the burden of the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, reflected that.
Our perspective on our ports has changed very markedly in recent years. The ports were extensive because of the kind of business that they were involved in—often, the export of huge quantities of raw materials, of which coal was the outstanding one. The noble Lord referred to Cardiff, which was long concerned overwhelmingly with the export of coal and, subsequently, sea oil. The extent of such a port was considerable, and that is true of many of our other ports, but they have changed through economic use. More importantly, the staggering amount of hugely successful and eye-catching development that we have in the ports has revivified local economies. In fact, there is scarcely a major port in the United Kingdom that has not been almost transformed in recent years. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, would inevitably emphasise Cardiff there, but it is true of many other significant ports; as their economic role has changed, so have they—but very much for the better.
When the ports looked destined to have nothing but an inner-city dereliction quality to them, they were in fact revived through other developments. That is true of Newcastle and Bristol; it is certainly true of Liverpool after the year of culture; and in Wales, it is true of Swansea as well as Cardiff. That not only shows that we must have regard to the potential for developing an economic unit such as a port, which is such an important element in our economy, but surely it testifies to the fact that we must avoid excessive rigidity, lest we are unable to give effect to its transformation. That not just benefits the economies of those localities but in many ways—because it has happened to coincide with the extraordinary flourishing of British and international riverside and seaside architecture—it has restored those cities to former glories. Without necessarily going back to their 19th century roots, they now look forward a great deal more to developments in the 21st century.
Therefore, we want degrees of flexibility within this. Natural England's scheme, which it is required to publish under Clause 288, will set out its approach on land used by a port. The scheme which it has published alongside the Bill says that it will usually be necessary for the trail to avoid ports and other industrial areas in active working use in the interests of safe and efficient operations. I am sure that we all subscribe to that. Natural England will discuss the best approach with the port operator. In addition, it can restrict or exclude the right of access if required for management purposes. It can also propose variations to the route later, if developments make that appropriate. However, that is to be taken in the context of Natural England's discussions with port operators; it should not—as the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, suggested in his amendment—be put into legislation in a way that would restrict potential port development plans, by elevating them to an effective planning blight, and restrict usage of the area in a way that we want to avoid.
I understand that point, of course. We have to consider the economic development of the nation and how we plan ahead. However, I am seeking within the framework of the Bill not to accept an amendment that would be too restrictive on its purposes, when our recent history indicates why we do not put such development plans on a statutory basis. Those are important documents; I do not underestimate their significance to a port's development. How on earth could one possibly explain the development of Felixstowe if there had not been real forethought about how that port might develop? Yet that is different from accepting an amendment which would be unnecessarily restrictive within this legislation when I am seeking to argue—and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, presented this argument in his particularly persuasive way—that things can change quite markedly regarding ports. We ought to be careful about introducing restrictions.
Amendment A360 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Greenway and Lord Taylor, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, would add a new category of excepted land to cover,
"Land used for the purposes of recreational boating facilities (including marinas, boatyards and clubs)", and, in Amendment A362A in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart,
"Land use for, or associated with the use of, sporting facilities".
We believe that such land will generally be covered by the excepted land, buildings and their curtilage provision. However, I accept that the nature of the argument being presented, particularly with regard to marinas and boatyards, is compelling. If it looked as though the buildings and curtilage provision did not make those excepted areas, we would undertake further consultation to see how to tackle that issue. The point is accepted but I hope the noble Lord will feel that he can withdraw—
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I take him back to what he said earlier about being able to adjust some of these excepted grounds by affirmative order. Given what he has just said about the curtilage of boatyards, I hope that he will reconsider the provision with regard to a distance of 20 metres from a dwelling house. These Benches feel that to remove such a provision, which is in the Bill, simply by order is not satisfactory.
I hear what the noble Duke says. He knows that we have no intention of ploughing arbitrarily through people's gardens and that that is not the legislation's intent. However, he will also be aware that the constraints surrounding the concept of the coastal path can present real issues with regard to juxtaposition in some circumstances. We may need to secure local agreement to preserve the continuity of the route where a householder reaches a different agreement. That may be necessary for the purposes of the path. At this stage, I am simply seeking to avoid amendments that rigidify the legislation when we are aware of the concerns that have been identified. The noble Duke identified an important one. I merely seek an element of flexibility against a background where there is a great deal of work to be done on these issues. However, that work will not be advanced with excessive restrictions—
In considering these matters, particularly in relation to Amendment A360, will the noble Lord look very carefully at public liability insurance? The working environment of a boatyard, marina, caravan park or even, conceivably, a golf course raises important issues about public liability. It is a regular refrain of mine that in the south-west anxieties have been dealt with locally and local agreement has been reached. However, running a coastal path through a working environment of that sort raises great issues of public safety and, inevitably, of insurance. In further considering these matters, and in the discussions to which the noble Lord referred, will he assure us that that issue will be addressed?
That and related issues need to be addressed. Safety is important. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, identified, small working dockyards and marinas may contain heavy equipment and a great deal of activity goes on. People need to be aware of that. It may be inappropriate for a path to go through such a development. As I said, the existing provision on property and curtilage deals with that. The noble Duke will tell me that golf courses can present danger, as, indeed, they can from time to time. People may suffer accidents on golf courses. I should think that almost as many golf courses have rights of way as do not. They have to cope with that day in and day out. Elie golf course on the Firth of Forth adopted an extremely intelligent solution to the problem of the coastal path. It preserved the rights of those who wished to walk down the Firth while protecting them from the actions of errant golfers, such as the members of the parliamentary golf society, who never knew where they would next hit the ball. These issues do arise but golf courses are taken care of in the legislation in this connection.
I do not want to protract the debate but we are dealing with some interesting subject areas. I have two questions for the noble Lord. First, caravan parks and seaside amusements do not usually comprise a built environment in terms of bricks and mortar but they are private property. How do they fit into the CROW Act and the developments we are discussing? As regards harbour developments, it is way over 50 years since I was at school in Felixstowe. At that time, what is now Trinity Wharf and a huge area of port facilities comprised marshes over which we wandered. If a path is established without anticipating further development requirements, how simple will it be for a future developer, acting in the national interest—perhaps even acting under the instructions of the IPC under another piece of legislation—to have the path moved to prevent it interfering with the commercial development of the site or a housing development or another important development?
The noble Lord will have listened with the same care that I did to the part of the debate which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, initiated on parks and gardens. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, identified the Committee's views on that. A range of significant views exist on a number of these issues. The Government have given very careful thought to what needs to be included in exemptions with regard to parks and gardens, which is the burden of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. It will be recognised that there is conflict of opinion in the Chamber on this issue. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I put amusement parks into the same category.
We know the principles on which we intend to work: the nature of excepted land, derived from CROW, is clear from the Bill. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, asked about land within 20 metres of a dwelling. We intend to remove the category of land within that 20-metre range: we have accepted the point.
The noble Duke will have to accept that considerable discussion will go on for a long time before the Bill is completed, and there will be further discussion before the order is drafted. It is the order that will give effect to the Bill in this area. There will be a need for the Government to gain the support of both Houses for the order. We will have to engage in additional consultation about these issues. I hope that the noble Duke will accept that, at this stage, it would not advance the legislation, nor indeed the cause of those expressing proper anxieties about the boundaries of the concept of excepted land, if amendments produced rigidities in the framework of what is proposed in the Bill. We have the bedrock definition of excepted land from the CROW Act, and some points that have been raised today, which I understand are the subject of considerable controversy and concern, will need to be worked through before we eventually complete our deliberations.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way again. I was talking about caravan parks, which are different from caravans. I should have said temporary holiday homes by the sea that are commercially viable, where families often go on holiday and where security could be a problem. Public access would be a cause of anxiety both for holidaymakers and for the owners of such sites. I do not think that this comes under the CROW Act; it is more to do with government policy.
My second point was about the permanency of the coastal path when faced with future development. There will be situations when it is necessary, in the national interest, for a port to expand. If the coastal path has been put right up against the perimeter of the port development, as the Minister may be suggesting, how easy will it be for the developers of the port to move the path to another location so that it does not hinder the proper development of the facility?
Noble Lords will appreciate that I hesitate to engage in a debate in which any noble Lord can think of an establishment that is next to the coast and challenge me on how the coastal path would cope with the requirements of that economic or social enterprise. I was shying away from dealing with caravan parks, because, as I understand it, we still are involved in considerable consultation on how to deal with such issues. With regard to the caravan park, we would probably not exclude the path, but would ensure that there was no additional land access at the margin beyond the path, so that walkers could go through, I hope with the minimum of fuss, but we would not expect anything except the coastal path to go through the park.
We accept that we have more consultation to engage in on that issue, as on several others that noble Lords have identified. Coastal areas are pretty complex. I accept entirely that the issue of ports is an important part of the debate. I have stretched myself as far as golf courses, against my better judgment, and now I am on to caravan parks, and the issue of parks and gardens raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. It is not reasonable for the Government to be asked to express much more in detail at this stage.
I hesitate to encourage the Minister to go on any longer: we are all waiting for our dinner. Can I do a deal with him? I was wondering if he would ever get on to parks and gardens. If the Minister or his colleague will write to me about their thinking on the problem of parks—which is a serious issue, because Natural England believes that it needs a change in order to do its job properly—I will not ask him to say any more about it today, and will not press it further.
While I am on my feet, I will just say that my recollection of the pre-legislative committee is rather different from that of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, in terms of the balance of views. Nevertheless, the wording was agreed unanimously: that is the important thing.
I am grateful to the noble Lord: he has struck a deal. That is all I have to say.
I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate on this grouping. It has indeed been very wide-ranging. Part of the problem has been the regrouping of amendments in order to try to save time. Many amendments were put together, hence the wide-ranging debate.
I am grateful to the Minister for what he said about boatyards and yacht clubs. I understand that most of their concerns have been covered. The Minister said that where they were not covered, he would look into it: I am grateful for that.
As far as concerns port development land, I appreciate that my amendment was widely drawn. However, as with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, we are referring to land possibly for the extension of a container berth, not necessarily to the reams of derelict port land referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. That can be developed for residential or other purposes, and the path easily rerouted around it. It is not necessarily a problem.
Reading between the lines, it is obvious at the moment that Natural England would like the path, if possible, to go across land that in future may be required for port development. Nevertheless, a lot of land alongside ports comes into other categories that are also of concern, such as wetlands and mudflats, so development may be impractical. We will have to see what happens. There should be no problem in moving a path—it is fairly easy to construct—if land is required for another purpose and there is provision for that. I am grateful to the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A270 withdrawn.
Amendment A271 not moved.
I know that the next group will probably be short, but our discussions might go on longer than expected, so it is appropriate that I beg to move that the House be resumed. I suggest that Committee stage begin again not before 8.30 pm.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.30 pm.