Clause 287 : General provision about the coastal access duty
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
A282ZA: Clause 287, page 175, line 3, at end insert—
"( ) They must have regard to the desirability of commissioning any relevant local authorities to exercise any functions under this Part including, in particular—
(a) the delineation of the coastal route;
(b) the delineation of any alternative route;
(c) the demarcation of the coastal margin; and
(d) the provision of suitable facilities."
I am reluctant to delay proceedings as I know it is the wish of the usual channels that we conclude the Bill's Committee stage today. The Minister, I and others who are active in the Bill's passage will therefore wish to see business speedily transacted.
In many ways, Amendment A282ZA relates to the most important element of this part of the Bill—namely, how we bring it all together and actually create the coastal path. I am aware of the dialogue that we have already established. It has been very useful to have the briefings on this aspect of the Bill. The Government have sought to address the locality issue directly in their briefing note headed, "Role of local authorities and extent of their consultation". I understand it to accept much of my argument. Indeed, I think the Government have it in mind that local authorities should play a key part. The Minister said as much when we were last in Committee, in response to an amendment from my noble friend Lady Byford.
My amendment seeks to enshrine that role by placing this involvement on the face of the Bill. Noble Lords following the debates on this Bill will know how important I consider the role of local authorities in ensuring the delivery of a coastal path that provides the general public with access to the coast for them to enjoy and use safely. At the same time, the line of the route must be such as to minimise the pressure on those in occupation and ownership of the route. Local knowledge must be the key, and ensuring where possible that there is agreement at local level will encourage both the speedy setting up of the designated path and buy-in from all those involved.
For many reasons, I believe the experience of local authorities will be vital to this process. Most important of all is the local knowledge and experience that those currently responsible for the footpath network can bring to the task. It is certain that they would have an easier dialogue with landowners and local interest groups than a Whitehall-based government agency. I think that Natural England itself recognises this; it is about delivering what the Bill seeks as efficiently and painlessly as possible. Using local authorities in the way this amendment suggests will expedite the creation of the path and, as I hope to show, invest it with a greater utility and bring the community centre-stage on the project.
The Committee needs to remember that this Bill deals with the awkward remainder. While much of the coast already has coastal paths—many created by custom—other stretches have been created by Highway Act powers under which compensation has been given to occupiers and landowners. However, this is a different matter. The good will of landowners, farmers and other occupiers of the land is vital to bring the remainder into existence. I believe that local authorities will have better access to that good will.
We should not forget that this Bill builds paths in what are often the most difficult cases. It is not for nothing that this is so, as by definition, what we are catering for are those places where access up to now has not been possible. We have to reconcile all those complex aspects of the Bill which our debates up to now have brought to the Committee's notice.
I am certain that access to the coastal path itself from existing inland roads and pathways is a key to its success in achieving its purpose as a recreational resource for the public to enjoy. It can be of no use to have a path stuck out of reach from the locality. That is why locally organised bus services and car parks are an equal part of the strategy. The most enjoyable walks are circuits, and few will walk long distances of more than 10 miles along the length of the route. Therefore, access to the coastal path itself is important, and integration is vital. Indeed, in our previous debate on this subject, the Minister mentioned how important this was for the success of the south-west coastal path. Given that the Minister has said that his belief is that such connections are not part of the coastal path and would have to be provided by local authorities at their expense, what encouragement will they be given to provide connections? Is this not, of its own, yet another reason why local authorities should be in the key role of drawing up the line of the path?
I am not sure where in the Bill this matter is best addressed but I am sure that the best agent for delivering a coastal path that is readily accessible for casual walkers is the local authority. By all means let Natural England badge the route. It can ensure consistency—or, to use an analogy, exercise editorial control—but it is not the best author of the detail. It will be Natural England that presents the final report but meanwhile it should be prepared to commission and fund local authorities to designate the line. County councils or the appropriate right-of-way authority will link in with local services for which they are responsible, such as bus routes. Likewise, they can liaise with district councils over the provision of car parks and the development of facilities.
This is to increase the recreational asset value of the coastal path for the benefit of all users. There are likely to be situations which, without proper precautions, may put users of the path in danger. Local knowledge will minimise this. Paths will be subject to seasonal pressures, which may be linked to wildlife, and in some cases tidal pressures, and alternative routes will need to be considered and managed. Furthermore, if use is to be broadened to include other classes of users, such as horse riders, this will need to be determined through the situation on the ground, being permitted only if local conditions allow.
Whatever, the utility and durability of the path will be highly dependent on it being placed in the optimum balance, taking account of proximity to the coast, accessibility and ease of use for the public in general. Local knowledge is the way to facilitate that, and it can be best brought to bear by local authorities. We know from the Countryside and Rights of Way Act that much time was expended on appeals, and noble Lords will not want a repeat of that. Agreement between a local authority and landowners and occupiers will be much easier to obtain and will avoid unnecessary dispute. This is surely what local buy-in means to this great project. It need not be seen as a threat; if constructed in a sensitive manner, it can be a facility from which local communities can only gain. That is why, if we want this path to be a success, we should write the role of local authorities into the Bill. I beg to move.
We have the second amendment in this group, Amendment A324. The underlying ethos behind it is, I think, the same as that of the Conservative amendment, although the wording is slightly different. Our amendment would insert the words:
"Before preparing a report, Natural England may enter into an arrangement with one or more relevant access authorities in which the authority or authorities, or persons employed by them, carry out some or all of the preparatory work on its behalf".
Whatever the wording and wherever it should be placed in the Bill, it is our view that, for many of the reasons set out by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and others, it is important that the role of local access authorities in preparing these reports and maintaining the route is acknowledged in the Bill.
The noble Lord mentioned that the Government have already said that local authorities will be closely involved, and that is true. Indeed, Natural England has set out the same thing in a very helpful document. Taking the scheme as a whole, I think that the draft coastal access scheme, published by Natural England in January, instils a lot of confidence in the words in the Bill. These people have looked at the Bill and thought that it is a bit thin—that it is an outline Bill rather than a framework Bill which includes all the detail it should. Reading what Natural England proposes puts a great deal of confidence behind what is being proposed here. Nevertheless, our view is that some of what is in this scheme should be in the Bill.
Paragraph 3.1.2 of the scheme states:
"We aim to work closely with access authorities throughout the process of alignment and establishment of the coastal access rights, combining our nationally consistent approach with their detailed understanding of local circumstances. We will therefore discuss with them the basis for dividing up the coast that they cover and the sequence in which each stretch should be implemented".
Paragraph 3.1.3 states that,
"once started, work with the access authority should continue until a report (or reports) has been completed for the whole of the coastline within the authority's area".
There are further references as well.
In December 2008, Natural England published another excellent document, on coastal access supplementary information. Paragraph 5.5 states that its,
"current estimates for staff and support costs" include the cost of this in access authorities. This is based on the working assumption that the access authorities will manage the local alignment field work and consultation and implement it once it has been approved. It is clear that Natural England believes that all the donkey work in producing the coastal path and maintaining it will be carried out by the local access authorities. Natural England will supervise and manage and perhaps put one or two people in on the ground to co-ordinate and manage what the local authority is doing. That is fine because it provides people locally with a great deal of confidence that the consultation and careful work with the landowners, user interests, natural history interests and everyone else will be carried out properly.
There will be a great deal of further confidence in the Bill if this proposal is included. It does not have to be more than two or three lines, but if it is in the Bill, it cannot be changed and will happen in the way that Natural England and the Government want to do it. In five or 10 years' time, the existing management of Natural England may not exist. The present Government will not exist, but their successors will. There will be a new Secretary of State and so on. What appears in the Bill is crucial in these cases. I have therefore put forward my amendment, and I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor.
I support these amendments. My experience is that in these situations personal relations matter more than anything else. It is crucial to know the right people to talk to, how to get people to talk to one another, which organisations take what attitude and how they get on with local landowners and managers, and all that kind of thing. As the noble Lord who has just spoken knows as a councillor, local government people know how to do that as well as anyone. I cannot imagine that Natural England, being parachuted in as representatives of the Government of the day, is likely to get the same kind of response. It would be much more difficult but very much in its interests if it did this through local government and if that were allowed in the Bill. It should be in the Bill. It makes sense of local government and it makes sense for this exercise.
This debate is a helpful introduction to, one hopes, our final day in Committee on the Bill. I agree with the noble Lords and the noble Baroness on the role of local government, particularly the access authorities. I agree that local knowledge must be the key. I also agree that constructive dialogue with all the parties, including the land owners, is much to be preferred as it is likely to lead to a more consensual approach. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, suggested, we undoubtedly wish to avoid some of the problems that have arisen with the CROW Act, particularly in relation to the appeal system.
I also very much agree that good local authorities should enhance personal relationships and help to get agreement about the coastal path. I also agree that access to the path and circular walks by public transport and so on is very important, and that there needs to be proper integration. The role of local authorities is very important to that. We see local authorities being extremely important pastors in the costal access project.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, rightly referred to Natural England's document on the draft scheme, which refers explicitly to the role of local authorities. Schedule 19 to the Bill provides for the practical powers that are necessary to enable Natural England to identify, establish and maintain the English coastal route. I can confirm that, wherever practical, Natural England will enter into agreements with access authorities to carry out the work of establishing the route on the ground.
In addition, county councils and county district councils are statutory consultees under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and as a result must be consulted by Natural England before it draws up a report on a section of coast in their area. In addition, under regulations that will be made under new Section 55E in Clause 292, Natural England will be required to give access authorities for the particular area covered by the coastal access report the opportunity to make representations on that report. I well understand why noble Lords wish to have confirmation of this by ensuring that it appears in the Bill. I have said that it is our intention that local authorities will be key partners in implementing coastal access, but in the light of the views that have been expressed today, I am happy to take away the points that have been made and consider further what we might be able to put into legislation to answer noble Lords' concerns about this matter. I do not disagree in principle with anything that both noble Lords and the noble Baroness have said this afternoon.
Amendment A282ZA withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
A282A: Clause 287, page 175, line 4, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
In moving Amendment A282A, I shall also speak to the other amendments in the group. The amendments seek to clarify who is considered to have a relevant interest in land. The Bill is confusing in two respects; the relevant definitions of Clauses 287 and 292 are not the same as the definitions that are used in the CROW Act, and even more confusingly, despite the similarity between the schemes—indeed, the Bill uses CROW Act mechanisms extensively—the two definitions are not even the same as each other. The question of who has a relevant interest in land is not trivial. We will come to the much anticipated debate over the right to an appeal, but even with the current provisions in the Bill it is acknowledged that those with a relevant interest in land should have certain privileges when it comes to the right to be consulted and to make representations. Indeed, the Minister confirmed that in an earlier debate, so I expect him to agree to this position.
In all the enthusiasm for establishing a coastal access route, which we all agree is a good thing, we must not forget that we are extending the public sphere into private ground. Inevitably, there will be an impact not only on those who hold the land outright but on those who currently use it. Quite rightly, the CROW Act considered that those holding a licence or agreement on the land also have an interest. They have often paid significant amounts of money for the right to undertake various activities. Why have the Government chosen to exclude them from having an interest taken into account, or is this just an inadvertent error in drafting the Bill? I beg to move.
This is not an inadvertent error by the Government—as if anyone could conceive of such a thing. There is an issue to consider here, and I hope to be able to convince the noble Lord that we have thought through these issues very carefully, and that where we differentiate from the CROW Act it is for good reason and not because of any slip on the part of the Government. We will be considering a number of general issues relating to the consultation on Natural England's report, and I do not want to pre-empt those discussions now.
This group of amendments specifically seeks to extend the definition of a relevant interest in affected land to include those with other interests. That is because, as the noble Lord has said, the CROW legislation provides for that, and this legislation should follow it. This is an important point because such persons must be consulted under new Section 55D before the report by Natural England is prepared, and are then able to make representations which go in full to the Secretary of State. However, the CROW legislation includes other interests inland such as rights of common, rights of grazing and sporting rights. These interests were particularly relevant to the types of land involved in CROW itself. They include open country, which is defined in the Act as mountain, moor, heath and down, as well as registered common land. The CROW land includes a number of grouse moors, which make shooting interests pertinent to the legislation, while rights of common were particularly important as the mapping process involved mapping areas of registered common land.
The situation at the coast, which is what this part of the legislation is concerned with, and the implementation of the coastal access duty, is quite different. A great number of different interests—access interests as well as landed interests—are concerned with the coast. Moreover, the land types and the different interests which will be affected by the proposals for the coast are much less uniform than those identified for the CROW legislation. We believe, therefore, that it is appropriate to have a different definition of relevant interests which ensures that those likely to be particularly affected by giving public access to land at the coast are consulted and can make representations on the report, which then go in full to the Secretary of State. The Committee will recognise that these are very important provisions indeed. Thus it has been with great care rather than through inadvertence that we have identified and set out in the Bill the people who it is appropriate to include within the definition of those with a relevant interest in affected land. These are set out in Clause 287 and new Section 55J in Clause 292; namely, the owner of the land, a leaseholder and a person in lawful occupation of the land.
I shall make a cardinal point in saying that this is the most appropriate approach to take for coastal land. I hope the noble Lord will accept that the Government have thought about these issues very seriously. In many ways what he suggests might have been looked on as the easier course of just following the definition in the CROW Act. But the coastal path and coastal land affect different interests and because of that difference I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment, with the reassurance that the Government have considered this issue with the greatest care.
"holds an estate in fee simple absolute in possession in the land", yet in Clause 292 the wording of proposed new Section 55J(2)(a) is,
"is the owner of the land".
Having two different wordings seems a little strange. There is also the question of principle that some people may have an interest in land for which they have paid money which entitles them to a certain use of the land but will not necessarily, as far as this legislation is concerned, entitle them to be considered to have an interest. I am not sure the Government are right on that but I am grateful for the Minister's explanation and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment while we consider it.
Amendment A282A withdrawn.
Amendments A282B and A282C not moved.
Clause 287 agreed.
Clause 288 : The coastal access scheme
Amendment A283 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Moved by Lord Greaves
A284: Clause 288, page 175, line 10, leave out "approach it will take" and insert "procedures and policies it will follow"
I will also speak to Amendments A286, A287, A289. A290, A291, A293, A294, A295, A296, A297 and A299, which stand in my name and that of my noble friend. This group also contains some amendments from the Conservatives and the government amendment which we look forward to hearing about in due course.
These amendments are about the coastal access scheme, a national scheme which will be put together by Natural England. As I have said, we have had the benefit of seeing the draft scheme, which is already very considerably developed. That is good news for those of us debating it here today. We do not always get information in quite such detail about what is going to happen as a result of the legislation which we are discussing. Natural England is to be congratulated on having got the draft scheme to the stage that it is at, although obviously it is still subject to amendment, not least by this legislation when it is finally passed by Parliament. The scheme will be approved by the Secretary of State, who lays out how Natural England will produce reports and create coastal access—the route and the marginal land or spreading room—in each part of the coast. The Bill says that Natural England must prepare a scheme setting out the approach it will take. That seems to be fairly vague wording and Amendment A284 suggests that, instead of talking about the approach, it should consist of the procedures and the policies. This is partly probing to find how much policy this document will contain and how much it will be a procedural and operational document, as well as suggesting more exact wording.
Amendment A286 says that the coastal access scheme must require Natural England to discharge the coastal access duty by means of preparing reports under Section 51 of the 1949 Act. This is for clarity. There seems to be an omission here that ought to be filled.
Amendment A287 probes the question of the status of the coastal access scheme, and the Conservative amendments probe in a similar area. At the moment the Bill says that the scheme requires the approval of the Secretary of State but parliamentary approval is not required. The government amendment that we are going to discuss says that it has to be laid before Parliament; obviously each House, if a document is laid before it, can discuss it and make recommendations, but it is not subject to parliamentary approval.
Again, what kind of document is it? If it is a policy document, like a planning policy document, then it is probably not right that it should be subject to parliamentary approval because policy is a matter for the Government. If, however, it is a procedural and operational document that sets out the ways in which the coastal access proposals will be put forward, then it ought to be a statutory instrument. At the moment, it appears to be a bit of one and a bit of the other. The amendment probes just how far parliamentary scrutiny of the scheme will be appropriate, because it will be the key document in putting together the structure for how the new regime is going to work.
Amendment A289 says that when the coastal access scheme is put to the Secretary of State for approval, the Secretary of State would have to give reasons for his approval or rejection of the scheme. I do not need to say any more about that. The reasons for putting forward the amendment are self-evident.
Amendment A299 says that the Secretary of State's reasons would have to be published at the same time as the scheme, as approved by him. Again, the reasons are self-evident. If the Secretary of State has to put forward reasons, they should be published.
Amendment A290 probes what happens if a scheme is rejected. We are suggesting that a new scheme should be produced within 12 months. It would be a disaster if the scheme were rejected, and one hopes that that situation would never occur. But if it occurs, what happens and what is the timescale?
Amendments A291 and A293 probe the curious wording in the Bill that suggests that there could be more than one scheme. It is not clear how there could be more than one, but the use of the phrase "a scheme" suggests that there could. We are simply suggesting that "a" should be replaced by "the" because we understand that there will be only one scheme at any given time. The appropriate article is therefore the definite, not the indefinite.
Amendment A294 would require Natural England, before preparing or revising a scheme, to publish its intention to do so and to consult appropriate people.
Amendment A296 talks about the appropriate persons to be consulted on schemes and suggests that they should include,
"representatives of ... persons with a relevant interest in coastal land"— as we have just discussed with regard to the previous group of amendments,
"local access forums ... relevant recreational users and conservation interests, and ... access authorities".
It is common sense that that would happen anyway but, if the scheme is going to get general acceptance and consensus, it ought to be in the Bill.
Amendment A299 says that if there are modifications by the Secretary of State when the scheme is published, the reasons for those modifications should be published.
This is a long group and these are quite complicated and technical amendments, but in practice the reasons why we are putting them forward are pretty evident in each case, so I will say no more. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is correct. This is a long and complex group of amendments but it is designed to achieve a straightforward objective; namely, scrutiny and transparency. The amendments are designed to increase the transparency of those operations which will be necessary to the process of decision-making surrounding the creation of a coastal access scheme.
Amendment A288 ensures that any scheme which the Secretary of State has approved must be laid before both Houses of Parliament. It is right for appropriate parliamentary scrutiny to be applied to such an important decision. We are grateful that the Government have conceded in principle by tabling Amendment A292.
Further amendments in this group increase the transparency of this process. Amendment A289A requires that if the Secretary of State rejects the scheme he must notify Natural England of his reasons. This is of the utmost importance to ensure a public and fair process. It makes sense that there should be full and open dialogue between the Secretary of State and all those engaged in this task. Does the Minister agree that if the Secretary of State can reject a scheme prepared by Natural England, it makes sense for Natural England to be informed of the reasons? Does he accept that if under subsection 2(b) the Secretary of State can issue a notice requiring a new scheme to be produced, that will be very difficult if Natural England is not aware why the first scheme was rejected? Common sense suggests that this is the only way that Natural England can get the scheme right. If, as would be sensible, the scheme is approved in sections, this would enable Natural England to hear the Secretary of State's view and learn from it.
We agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that Natural England should publish the reasons the Secretary of State gave for approving the scheme. Our amendment A299A builds on this and means that Natural England must publish the reasons that the Secretary of State gave for rejecting the scheme. This will improve transparency. It will ensure that all parties concerned have the opportunity to question the legitimacy of the reasons and thus reinforce the need for decisions to be based on absolute fairness. All parties should be in the picture. This is not a process that will benefit from deals behind closed doors. Does the Minister agree that it is right that the opportunity for scrutiny is provided?
Further to this, Amendment A295A requires that Natural England must not only publish the scheme, or sections of the scheme, but also put it out to public consultation. The Minister must agree with me that a coastal access scheme will affect a very large number of disparate groups of people. Does he also agree that it is right that these, often local, people should be allowed and indeed encouraged to use their knowledge to question and improve the scheme?
We welcome the Government's Amendments A292 and A298 in the interests of increased scrutiny, both by Parliament and by the public. I look forward to hearing the Minister describe the different methods of publication which Natural England may deploy. My only slight reservation in this area is that I hope the choice of media used to publish the scheme would reflect a concern to widen access to it rather than narrow it. What safeguards would the Minister consider appropriate to ensure that this was the case?
I apologise for my late arrival; unfortunately, I could not get here earlier.
My Amendment A289A is a simple probing amendment. The use of the indefinite article suggests that the Government feel there may be more than one case. If this is so, will the Minister explain the Government's thinking? My Amendment A146B covered the same relative point, and I hope that the Minister can clarify it for me.
In responding to this group of amendments, I also speak to two government amendments.
First, the amendments are helpful in teasing out some details of how the scheme will be taken forward with appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. We are responding to concerns raised in your Lordships' House today, and earlier by the departmental Select Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, regarding the scheme and the involvement of Parliament. The scheme would benefit from the input of Members of both Houses. That is why I will be moving Amendment A292, which would require the Secretary of State, once he has approved the scheme, to lay a copy before Parliament and, where that scheme is revised, a copy of the revised scheme. This is the procedure recommended by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The amendment would provide Natural England with an opportunity to take account of any suggestions on the scheme arising from debates by noble Lords and Members of the other place. The scheme could then, if necessary, be revised under Clause 288(4), subject to further approval by the Secretary of State and laying before Parliament.
I will also move Amendment A298, which clarifies that Natural England may publish the scheme in such a manner as it considers appropriate. I fully accept the point of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, about wanting that to be seen as a way of widening access rather than it becoming less accessible. I agree with that, and will ensure that it is communicated to Natural England. However, my understanding is that the draft scheme was published on the internet and hard copies were made available on request. That does not seem to be a bad start. I know that I should not have mentioned the internet. I am obviously in danger of provoking one of your Lordships' usual debates on the matter. I take the point that we want these documents and the scheme to be accessible, and it is important that they are.
On the other amendments in this group, Amendment A284, which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has spoken to, refers to "procedures and policies" rather than "approach". As the noble Lord said, he has tabled it as a probing amendment. We prefer the wording of the Bill to that of the noble Lord's, because his would take a rather prescriptive approach. He asked me what I expect to be in Natural England's scheme. We would expect the scheme to set out in some detail how the implementation process is expected to work, the key principles of the alignment of the route and how they will be applied to a number of coastal land covers and uses. The draft scheme itself gives a good indication of what we would expect the final scheme to cover. It gives an indication of the procedure that will be followed, and also a fuller explanation of the policy. It sets out a general approach, so it is appropriate for the Secretary of State to make the final decision, albeit—with the benefit of the government amendments—with an opportunity for scrutiny of the scheme as it is laid before Parliament.
On Amendments A289, A299, A299A and A289ZA, the Secretary of State will approve the scheme only if he is satisfied that Natural England has clearly set out the approach it will take when discharging its coastal access duty. If the Secretary of State is not so satisfied, he will reject the scheme and give notice to Natural England, under subsection (2)(b), to prepare and submit a revised scheme and give Natural England his reasons for doing so. Where the Secretary of State has rejected a scheme, the current provisions in Clause 288 provide some flexibility for him to set a time for any revised scheme to be submitted. The Secretary of State may specify a timescale for the submission of a new scheme in the notice that he gives Natural England under Clause 288(2)(b), so the legislation is currently flexible enough to allow the Secretary of State to indicate the appropriate timescale for submitting a new scheme.
Amendments A291, A293, A298 and A299A deal with the question of whether we have got it right with our use of the words "a" and "the". I have gone into this matter in great detail and have been convinced that the wording is correct. First, I reassure noble Lords that we are not talking about a whole series of different schemes; we are talking about one scheme. The point is that at the beginning, when Natural England starts to prepare a scheme, it is "a" scheme because the preparatory work is still being done. Once Natural England submits this scheme to the Secretary of State, it becomes "the" scheme. While I, too, queried it because it seems illogical, there is consistency and a reason for it.
I move on to Amendments A294, A295 and A296 which adds a list. The scheme or revised scheme must be approved by the Secretary of State. In doing so he will take into account the extent and coverage of Natural England's consultation. Natural England will be required to consult on its proposed scheme before it submits it to the Secretary of State for his approval. The current provisions in subsection (6) of this clause already provide for Natural England to publish the scheme or revised scheme as soon as is reasonably practical after it is approved.
On the question of giving reasons, if the Secretary of State has agreed to a scheme that has been proposed by Natural England, I am not sure—or certainly not convinced—that it is necessary for the Secretary of State to give reasons for approval. On the more substantive point of the Secretary of State rejecting a scheme, of course he would expect to say why it is rejected. There should be no doubt about that, although one would always hope that there had been a co-operative process so that it was unnecessary for such a scheme to be rejected. We must have the provision in case there is a problem, but I have no doubt that, if a scheme were to be rejected and the Secretary of State called—in the way that I have described—for a new scheme to be put forward, with an indicative timetable if necessary, Natural England would clearly need to know what was wrong with its original proposal.
The noble Lord said that it would do for the scheme to be published on the internet, where people could get a copy if they wanted to. Have we reached the point where that is adequate? People might not know that it was on the internet at all.
I wish I had not mentioned that. The moment that I said it, I knew that noble Lords would challenge me on the point. I was only describing the practice of Natural England in relation to the draft scheme. I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Baroness said. I agree with her. The implication of what she says is that not everyone uses the internet. I think I said, as I attempted to correct myself, that I fully accept the general point made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that in moving this amendment I seek to ensure that these documents are accessible. It has to be left to Natural England to decide how that should be done but I am happy to make the House's sentiments clear to that body; namely, that the internet should not be the only way in which its documents should be made available and communicated.
I am grateful to my noble friend for raising the issue because the internet is still not a possibility in many rural areas. I am grateful to the Minister for responding to the point in my amendment on the use of "a" and "the". When we debated the Bill before the Easter Recess, I think he acknowledged that schemes would come in different pieces and that it would not be one—
You have to draw a distinction between the path itself and the coastal access scheme with which we are dealing in this part of the Bill. There is one scheme. Sections of the coastal access path will be dealt with in a phased timetable. Ultimately, we hope that it will all be joined up to become one coastal access path.
That is a very important point. I, too, was somewhat confused because the practicality of the issue would involve it being dealt with in stages. Sections would be dealt with and presented to the Secretary of State. I assume that the Secretary of State would comment and give provisional approval subject to the overall scheme being ultimately presented. Indeed, one would not want to hold up the scheme for the sake of it not being completed.
I should make it clear that in Clause 288 we are talking about the scheme. The scheme sets the parameters and the context in which the coastal access path will be delivered. However, as we have already discussed, and because of the practicalities involved, the path itself will be delivered in phases. Initially, it will not be all joined up, but the ultimate aim is to have one path, all of which is joined up. However, all this will take place in the context of the scheme.
I thank the Minister for the detailed attention that he has given to these amendments. We will check his comments in Hansard. However, he said that if the Secretary of State rejected the scheme or sent it back to Natural England to be changed, he would give his reasons. At least one of these amendments probes whether the Secretary of State would publish his reasons when he sent the scheme back to Natural England.
It would be extraordinary if those reasons were not made public.
That is a satisfactory answer, but extraordinary things sometimes happen.
When the draft scheme first came out it was fairly easy to track it down on the internet. However, when I saw it on the internet, I discovered that it was quite a big document and I did not have a colour printer at the time. I rang Natural England or, rather, the numbers that I could find on the website, and the people who were responsible for distributing Natural England's documents said that they had never heard of it. However, that was some time ago. The first we saw of the printed document, as opposed to what we printed out ourselves, was at the very useful briefing sessions that we had with the Minister and his Bill team. Comments were made then that these documents were rather difficult to get hold of and not very many had been printed. There is no doubt that there is nowadays a tendency to assume that everybody can get it off the internet and perhaps most people now can. However, if it is a big document in full colour and you do not have adequate broadband, it is almost impossible to get.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am happy to give the assurance that noble Lords want that it is very important that this scheme document receives wide circulation in different media. I am happy to give that guarantee from the Dispatch Box.
I am grateful for that assurance. The only other comment that I wanted to make was to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on the vital issue of "a" and "the". The Minister says that when Natural England starts to prepare a scheme, it is "a scheme". I understand that. When it submits it, it becomes "the scheme". The wording in the Bill follows that to some extent. It starts off in Clause 288(1) with preparing "a scheme". It goes on in Clause 288(2) to refer to "the scheme", which the Secretary of State may approve, with or without modifications, or reject. In Clause 288(4), which deals with revising it, it is "a scheme" again. It seems that at the revision stage it ought to be "the scheme", because it is "the scheme" that has previously been adopted.
I do not think that is right. While they are revising it, "the scheme" is still in operation. They are working on a revision and will then make proposals. The scheme then becomes the revised scheme when it goes forward. I am happy to look at this again, but I had a very long discussion on this point with officials this morning. They convinced me that we had got it right. However, I always like to look into these matters fully and if the noble Lord would like me to, I will have another look to make sure that we have got it right.
I was about say that, if the Minister is going to spend more time looking at the wording of the Bill, other parts are more important, because this will not make any difference to what happens in practice, however amusing we find the debate. I thank the Minister for his reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A284 withdrawn.
Amendments 285 and 285A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment A286 not moved.
Amendment A286A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments A287 to A289ZA not moved.
Amendment A289ZB had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment A289A and A290 not moved.
Amendment A290A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment A291 not moved.
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A292: Clause 288, page 175, line 21, at end insert—
"( ) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a copy of the scheme approved under this section and, where that scheme is revised, a copy of the revised scheme."
Amendment A292 agreed.
Amendments A293 to A297 not moved.
Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
A298: Clause 288, page 175, line 24, leave out "publish, as soon as reasonably practicable—" and insert ", as soon as reasonably practicable, publish in such manner as it considers appropriate—"
Amendment A298 agreed.
Amendment A298A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Moved by Lord Greaves
A301: Clause 288, page 175, line 34, at end insert ", carrying out any other research, or undertaking any consultations and discussions with any persons or authorities"
Amendment A301 is about the preparation of the reports that will consist of the large number of proposals for each part of the coast. They will have to be produced within the framework of what is laid down in the coastal access scheme, as the Minister recently explained.
The Bill as it stands says that the preparation of a report cannot take place until the scheme has been approved, but Clause 288(9) says:
"Nothing in subsection (8)"— which is the bar on preparing the report until the scheme has been approved—
"prevents Natural England from surveying any land in connection with the preparation of such a report".
The purpose of the amendment is to probe the meaning of the phrase, "surveying any land". For the purposes of this probing, our amendment adds to that phrase the words,
"carrying out any other research, or undertaking any consultations and discussions with any persons or authorities".
It seems to me that a broad definition of the words "surveying any land" would include carrying out any research off the land, which could be desk research, library research, or talking to anyone about it. Common sense would allow that to happen. Common sense also suggests that this kind of activity ought to be allowed in preparation for the first phase of coastal access reports, even if the coastal access scheme itself is still in the late stages of being produced and approved. That is the purpose of the amendment. I do not intend to speak to Amendment A322.
Amendment A323 is to probe what happens in the preparation of a coastal access report if there is already an approved long-distance route on that section of coast. The amendment suggests:
"If the report is in relation to a part of the English coast where there is already an approved long-distance route, Natural England must in preparing the report have regard to the existence of that route and all relevant circumstances relating to it".
That applies in two places in particular. There may be others, but the two that I have identified are the south-west and north Yorkshire, where the Cleveland Way follows the coast of the North York Moors for quite a long distance. In those circumstances, what is the relationship between the existing long-distance route and the new coastal access long-distance route that will be produced in those areas? This is a probing amendment to seek an explanation of that.
I do not understand what Amendment A351 means, and I do not understand why it is in this group; it has floated here somehow. I do not intend to speak to it. I beg to move Amendment A301.
I want to reinforce the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on Amendment A323. It would not be particularly useful to seek to reinvent the wheel where an existing long-distance path already had coastal designation. I am thinking particularly of the south-west path, which already exists. There will be enough work in hand dealing with the new areas. One would hope that the Minister would be able to encourage the thoughts that lie behind Amendment A323.
It is customary from the Dispatch Box to thank a noble Lord when he does not press amendments that he has tabled but, having burnt the midnight oil seeking to grasp the nature of the amendments and having produced some absolutely devastating responses, the noble Lord will recognise how mortified I am that we are not going to be able to discuss them today.
I should have resolved by now never to tempt providence, nor the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, from this Dispatch Box, so I shall resist. On Amendment A301, the provision in Clause 288(9) will enable Natural England to survey land in preparation for submitting a report before there is an approved scheme, so it can do some preparatory work in advance of the scheme being finalised and approved. Before preparing a report it will, of course, consult people, but those consultations must not pre-empt or prejudice the proper consultations that Natural England will be required to hold once the scheme has been approved. The noble Lord indicated that this might be a probing amendment, so I hope he will recognise that we have good reasons for drafting the Bill as we have.
On Amendment A323, I hope that the noble Lord will accept that we are seeking to preserve the flexibility for Natural England to draw up a report for short sections of the route that do not amount to an extensive journey. In indicating that he is not now pressing Amendment A322, he, perhaps, accepts that. However, Natural England will need to take any previously approved long-distance route into account when it prepares its report; the burden of the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, in this short debate was, I think, that there is no point in Natural England being involved in such additional work.
Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will accept, first, that we consider we have examined the issues raised in his quite interesting and probing amendments. We are concerned that Natural England will be involved in developing its report through necessary preparation, which cannot be done without consultation, but that must not pre-empt the consultation that takes place once the scheme is approved. Secondly, I hope he will accept that Amendment A323 will not need to be in the Bill because, as it is drafted, Natural England will need to take account of any previously approved long-distance route. I think that was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor.
I am grateful to the Minister for his careful response. I want to make two points. On my point about surveying being read in a wider sense, I think the Minister said that nothing prevents Natural England speaking or discussing that with anybody, or doing any necessary research off the land itself, but that once the formal processes of investigating particular coastal parts are taking place, the consultations and discussions clearly have to take place under what is in the Bill; they will be legally necessary and cannot be pre-empted. If that is what the Minister said, then I thank him and am happy with that response.
My other point is on the south-west coastal path. I get a general feeling from many noble Lords that everything is perfect with that path at the moment, but it is not. The south-west coastal path is a wonderful thing and most of us have benefited from it at various times; nevertheless, parts of it have significant diversions inland, which one hopes that the Bill will, in due course, be able to remedy when looking at the south-west. Having said that we should know that not everything is absolutely perfect with that path, wonderful thing though it is, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A301 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Tyler
A302: Clause 288, page 175, line 35, at end insert—
"(10) The scheme shall make provision for keeping dogs under close control when members of the public exercise the rights contained in this Act to access the land designated as the English coastal route under section 286 of this Act.
(11) For the purpose of the scheme a dog is deemed to be kept under close control where the dog is in sight of the keeper, and the keeper is aware of the dog's actions, and can, where necessary, recall the dog so that it can return reliably and promptly to the keeper.
(12) For the purpose of this section, "keeper" has the same meaning as in section 6 of the Animals Act 1971 (c. 22)."
In moving Amendment A302 I shall refer to Amendment A363, which relates to the same issue, and make a quick reference to the Conservative amendment in this group, Amendment A359C.
In approaching this very important part of the coastal access scheme, I should put on record that I have no direct interest. I am not a dog owner. We all know a lot of dog owners; there may be many in the House who have exercised their dogs along some of the coastal footpaths, but I have not had the pleasure of doing so. I also put on record that I am not a member of or associated in any way with the Kennel Club. I say that although I have had some research undertaken by the Kennel Club for a particular reason. I understand from the club that an approach was made by departmental officials seeking the review and withdrawal of the amendments. That is rather surprising and worrying. If anyone should seek to withdraw my amendment, it should be me, not any outside organisation, which may or may not have provided information to enable me to move the amendment.
Anyone who has any experience of the countryside and, particularly, of the wilder countryside, must be well aware that dogs can be a major problem. They can provide considerable anxiety to both those concerned about the conservation of wildlife and to livestock farmers, especially at lambing time. Of course, lambing takes place earlier in Cornwall than in anywhere else in the country because of our delightful climate, but everywhere in the country, lambing is a very important part of the seasonal experience of working farmers. Therefore, it is not surprising that the National Farmers' Union has expressed anxiety about the best way to deal with that potential problem. I cite the National Farmers' Union briefing to your Lordships' House:
"We welcome the commitment for Defra and Natural England to carry out further work with stakeholders on the best way to deal with dog control, which recognises that there are some shared interests here for example between bird conservation and farming ... Conditions vary along the coast and appropriate dog management will need to reflect that. Accordingly we also hope that the Government will be pressed to agree that there is a compelling need for a communications strategy on the management of dogs in the wider countryside, not just in coastal areas, run by Natural England in conjunction with other stakeholders".
In other words, even after the Bill passes from your Lordships' House, that is likely to be unfinished but important business. It is important not least because a great number of our fellow citizens are dog owners, who greatly benefit from the fact that, at the moment, they can exercise their dogs in a wide variety of locations. I understand that there are about 7.3 million pet dogs in the United Kingdom cared for an estimated by 15 million people. That is not a minority interest. Government statistics show that dog walkers represent a large cross-section of society. Between one quarter and one half of all walkers are accompanied by dogs; that is certainly true in respect of some parts of our coastline. It is also true that dog owners benefit to a considerable extent in health terms from exercising their dogs. There are also social benefits for many individuals, families and communities.
Research shows that the biggest factor for owners choosing where to exercise their dogs is whether they can exercise them off-lead. If that is impossible locally, more than 40 per cent will drive somewhere else. They will take their car to go somewhere else. Obviously, that is not of great benefit to the environment. The Defra guidance accompanying the existing legislation states that local authorities should show that dog control orders are
"a necessary and proportionate response to problems caused by the activities of dogs and those in charge of them", and to,
"balance the interest of those in charge of dogs against the interests of those affected by the activities of dogs".
In practice, that has been largely ignored by many local authorities when they have taken a more restrictive approach. I understand that, although local authorities are bound under existing legislation to notify Natural England of any proposed dog control orders on access to land, very few appear to have done so. The Kennel Club tells me that, to date, at least 120 councils have implemented dog control orders, sometimes issuing as many as 100 orders in one local area. The Minister may be able to tell us whether, on that scale of orders, notification has been made to Natural England.
Therefore, in Amendment A302, we have designed a very specific, purpose-built provision for ensuring that dog owners exercising on the coastal access path do so in the most responsible way, taking account of the anxieties to which I referred earlier. We do not believe that the alternative, which appears in the Bill at the moment and to which we give attention in Amendment A363, which is in the form of amendments to the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, is appropriate, for the reasons I have given. It would seem to be using a sledgehammer to crack a really insubstantial nut.
In my view, and I hope in the view of the Committee, it is much more appropriate to make specified, purpose-built, purpose-made provisions, along the lines of Amendment A302. We believe that is more effective and that it is in a more appropriate place than Amendment A359C in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. We believe that laying full responsibility on dog owners to act really responsibly on the coastal footpath is the best way to ensure that they do so. I beg to move.
Speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lord Taylor, I believe it is quite a good moment for the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, to have brought this issue before the Committee, though I cannot say I agree with him in all his reasoning. One of the differences between the Government's proposals under this part of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill and its forerunner, the CROW Act, is that a great many of its regulations are to be implemented by secondary legislation, rather than being written on the face of the Bill. At present, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is placed within the main text of the Bill. I should have thought it more appropriate to table it as an amendment to Schedule 2 to the CROW Act, where we have attempted to place our Amendment A359C.
This amendment does reflect concerns of the NFU and we shall look carefully to see whether the noble Lord's proposals, if placed in Schedule 2, would be sufficient to allay our concerns. I do agree that this phraseology would need to be amended, as this schedule is entitled "Restrictions to be observed by persons exercising the right of access". A new paragraph for coastal land could be inserted to include the provisions proposed by the noble Lord under Amendment A302, and this would be more consistent with the CROW Act approach. I presume that this should not provide too many difficulties for the Government, as the noble Lord's proposals almost exactly mirror those contained in paragraph 26 of the briefing on the proposed statutory instrument, which the Minister has so kindly sent us.
The withdrawal of the provision prohibiting access for dogs in the nesting season, contained in the proposed statutory instrument, in order to limit them to specific sites is an interesting suggestion, but, as there are likely to be more species of ground-nesting birds in the coastal area than in the mountains and on moor land, one does wonder who will have the jobs of designating to which areas the seasonal restrictions will apply.
I listened with some care to what the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said about his Amendment A363, which at first struck me as being a bit too draconian. I was interested to hear what he said about the different approach of different local authorities to the use of these orders, but I should have thought that to remove the power entirely presumes that local authorities are likely to apply provisions of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act without good reason. That power, it seems to me, would be extremely important at times if there were outbreaks of zoonosis diseases to which dogs could contribute in a local area, such as E. coli, hydatid disease or salmonella. I expect that if rabies occurred, other legislation could be brought in. There is at least a sanction on local authorities, and perhaps the one to which the noble Lord referred should be aware that, if it is too draconian, it can be unelected. I hope that the Minister will address both the substance of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and the question of trying to maintain consistency with the CROW Act.
I see what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is getting at. This is an important example of the benefit that would ensue if we were assured that local authorities were going to be involved in this whole business. This is a very sensitive political issue, and local councillors are very used to discussing with the public what their dogs can and cannot do. I should have thought that that would solve the problem.
The question of dogs is very important for the practical success of this part of the Bill. Leaving aside the vexed question of privacy, on the whole, responsible public access to land does not interfere with the normal practical use of that land. There are exceptions to that, the most obvious being where animals other than humans are involved; for example, where there is livestock such as sheep and cattle and gates are left open, and in relation to habitat management for sensitive species, such as ground-nesting birds, mentioned by the noble Duke. Game and wildlife management generally is another example, and again, as the noble Duke said, wildlife is synonymous in most people's minds with the coastal strip.
However, these problems are particularly exacerbated when you come to the question of dogs. I declare an interest as a dog owner and as someone who, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has walked his dog along the south-west coast path in all four counties. I believe that we have to make coastal access a practical success. Therefore, although I sympathise with people who wish to walk their dogs, we have to make certain that we get this part of the Bill absolutely correct.
Whatever role I had in the implementation of the CROW Act, it was my publicly declared intent that in six, seven or eight years' time people would look back and say, "I wonder what all the fuss was about". On the whole, with one or two exceptions, after some teething problems I believe that that is probably the case. I hope that in a few years' time people, especially landowners and farmers, will also be able to look back and say, "This coastal access legislation has not made much difference to the management of my bit of land. It has given huge enjoyment to the public. It has also given us or our neighbours some benefit from the money that the visitors bring, and there have been no real problems". However, for them to say that, we have to deal with the question of dogs. I am very glad that the Government have acknowledged that and are intending to bring forward their own proposals.
Amendment A302 is a very good first attempt but I do not know whether any noble Lords have ever tried to remonstrate with someone whose dog is running amok on a headland which has been specially sown for ground-nesting birds. I think they would have found that the words "close control" or "promptly", when referring to bringing the dog back promptly to the owner, mean very different things to different people. As I said, the amendment is a very good first attempt but we have to try to improve on it. I cannot claim any magical solution to getting the balance right on this difficult question but I should be very happy to volunteer whatever experience I have had in order to try to find a practical and workable solution to this problem.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for his interesting amendments. He has introduced a very important debate on the question of dogs. I agree that, whatever the outcome of our debates, it will be important that Natural England has an effective communicating strategy for dog owners, and I shall certainly take that back.
May I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that his points about practical success are very important? I shall come on to the Government's approach to making changes in relation to CROW. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, was right when she said that, for a lot of this, we shall depend on local authorities and the practical experience they can bring, which is why I am a little resistant to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that we take the dog control order power away from local authorities. They can bring a lot of good common sense to what is sometimes a difficult matter, to ensure that there is an appropriate balance of interests.
Under the CROW Act, which will deliver the right of access to coastal land, a number of general restrictions have to be observed by persons exercising their right of access. These are set out in Schedule 2 to the Act, including, in paragraphs 4, 5 and 6, particular restrictions on the control of dogs. Amendment A302, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, would require the Natural England scheme to make provision for keeping dogs under close control. It would include within the Bill a description of what would be expected of any person in close control of a dog. Amendment A359C, proposed by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, would mean that a new paragraph might be inserted into Schedule 2 to the CROW Act to require a person to keep a dog under effective control.
I am sympathetic to the general principles expressed in both these amendments. I fully recognise the importance to land managers, to those accompanied by a dog, to other users and to responsible organisations such as the Kennel Club and the RSPB of a common understanding of the sorts of behaviour we should expect from a person in charge of a dog. However, we doubt that it is appropriate for the Bill to prescribe those details so closely regarding what the scheme should include. It is clear that the issue of dogs is an important one, it deserves some further detailed consultation and it is our view that this is best dealt with under the Section 3A order under CROW.
Noble Lords have referred already to the recently published paper which indicates the sort of changes we might propose to make to Schedule 2 to the CROW Act in the new Section 3A order. In one sense, it underpins the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, when he wishes us to be as practical as possible. Our argument is that using this mechanism and having the flexibility of secondary legislation will allow us to be flexible and practical in the light of circumstances.
On the very interesting point raised by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, concerning dogs to be kept on a lead during the nesting season, the CROW restriction related particularly to ground-nesting birds, which is relevant to moorland and heath-land. On the coast, there are many wildlife concerns—winter roosting is very important in some cases—so we need greater flexibility than CROW allows by using specific restrictions on dogs as appropriate. He then asks who is going to be able to provide the advice. My first port of call would be for the relevant local authorities to be able to do this, in consultation with all concerned interests. However, this is a consultation and if the noble Duke has specific ideas about this, I would be very happy to ensure that they are considered.
In this draft consultation, we have outlined our intention to include measures relating to restrictions on dogs and we think there should be a general restriction requiring a dog to be kept under effective control. By effective control, we propose that the keeper of a dog should keep it on relevant access land, and either keep it on a lead or keep it in sight and remain aware of its actions. A person should have reason to be confident that his or her dog will return reliably and promptly on command. We do not propose to make any change to the current position on open country that a person should keep his dog on a short lead. We mean by that a lead of not more than two metres in the vicinity of livestock and with any other relevant restrictions made under Chapter II of the CROW Act.
I hope noble Lords will feel that I have responded positively to this part of the debate. There will be further work and detailed consultation leading to an order being made—
Perhaps the noble Lord will respond to my question. Would it not be better for dog owners if the legislation on terms of access for dogs in the countryside and in the marine coastal area were in the same place; namely, Schedule 2 to the CROW Act, if it is amended? He has just given a fairly clear indication of what that might be. To have it all in the one place in legislation would simplify things for those who are trying to understand what they are supposed to do.
I agree with that, although I suppose the issue we face is that we are bringing a Bill before Parliament which partly uses the CROW Act as the way in which the coastal access path can be provided. Because of that, some of the provisions of this Bill seek to amend the CROW Act. We are also taking advantage of the order-making power in the CROW Act to deal with dogs. I fully accept the substance of the noble Duke's point. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, gave some quite extraordinary statistics. I think he referred to 7.5 million dogs and 15 million dog owners or persons with an interest in dogs, although I am puzzled about how he reached that statistic. None the less, the number is impressive.
Clearly, very few dog owners will read the legislation, but it is clear that they need to understand what they are expected to do. On that basis I will take back the point raised by the noble Duke and ensure that, as part of the work of Natural England taking this forward, it gives great consideration to and works with the relevant bodies, such as the Kennel Club, to ensure that dog owners can be informed of the requirements in as straightforward a way as possible.
Let me turn to dog control orders under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, thought that these proposals would be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. However, in the light of our consensus about the importance of local authorities in this area, because they are used to exercising dog control orders it is appropriate for them to be able to use those orders along the English coastal route. Of course, they can be made only following a suitable consultation process. The Dog Control Orders (Procedures) Regulations 2006 already place additional requirements for consultation on any proposal to make an order that would affect access land. I do not believe that local authorities would use the powers to apply dog control orders lightly, so we would prefer to remain with this locally based decision-making process. On the noble Lord's question about notifications to Natural England, in the time I have had we have not been able to find that information. But, on that, I would be very happy to talk to Natural England and drop him a line about it. He is absolutely right that it would be very helpful for Natural England to have that information, particularly about the coastal access path. We are all clear that local authorities have a very important role to play in the preparatory stages of the coastal access path, so information about dogs is very important for a successful conclusion.
I take full responsibility for any discussions that my officials may have had with the Kennel Club. When we talk to groups such as that, we seek to discover the meaning of the amendment so that we can respond as constructively as possible. That was my intention, but if it did not happen quite in that way, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and to the Committee.
I am grateful to the Minister for that full response. I should perhaps put on the record the fact that there are 7.3 million dogs, which are cared for by an estimated 15 million people. Many of us will be aware that the family dog may be thought to be the property of several individuals. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, is in proud possession of one or more dogs and whether they belong only to him or whether his family also takes an interest. That may be the reason for the discrepancy.
It has been a helpful and useful debate, not least because we have been able to probe in rather more detail the Government's long-term intentions. I hope that in so doing we may have given some guidance to stakeholders on all sides of this potential problem on the best way to proceed. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, kindly said that my amendment was a very good first attempt. I have made several attempts, and I will not pretend that the amendment is as good as all that, but given the way in which the Minister responded, it is clearly along the right sort of lines.
I in no way deprecate the laying of responsibility on local authorities, but it is right and proper that we should think carefully about the rather mixed experience with local authorities and the way in which they have or have not consulted on the use of dog control orders and how they have imposed them—in some areas on a very large scale, in other areas in a rather more limited way. It will be important for those who want to use a national coastal path, which after all is the objective, that there is some consistency from area to area and that it is compatible with the important needs of livestock husbandry and with the conservation of the environment and wildlife, which is also very important.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, had a point when he said that it was confusing now to have several places where a dog owner might have to go to find the statutory obligation which he or she is taking upon himself or herself. There are about three statutes, including the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act, which governs control areas, as well as the CROW Act and what we hope will very soon be the Marine and Coastal Access Act. Thereafter there will be secondary legislation, as has already been made clear, so this is a bit of a minefield for anyone who wants to understand precisely what is involved. However, I understand what the Minister said, and I certainly appreciate the fact that there is a limit to how precise we need to be in the coastal access scheme instruction in the Bill and how far we will get with that.
Finally, I will be parochial for a second and talk about nesting birds. Those in your Lordships' House who follow the excellent television series "Doc Martin" will have seen the Cornish choughs, which are very carefully protected. They are the most marvellous birds and a symbol of Cornwall, and they featured very strongly in the last episode that I saw. Indeed, it looked as though their nest had been blown up. I have a concern about Cornwall and nesting birds, particularly the Cornish choughs. They should be protected from all forms of disturbance, not least from dogs. It will be a very difficult balancing act, and I wish the Minister well. I shall read Hansard with care to see what he said, but I think he goes a very long way to meet the concerns that many of us have already expressed. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A302 withdrawn.
Clause 288, as amended, agreed.
Clause 289 : Review of the coastal access scheme
Amendment 303 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Moved by Lord Greaves
A304: Clause 289, page 175, line 40, leave out "At least one" and insert "The first"
We managed to get through dogs in regard to this Bill in half an hour. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who was in his place listening but has now left, will no doubt have been recollecting that in the CROW Bill nine years ago it took us something like a day and a half to dispose of dogs, so perhaps progress is being made.
Amendments A304 to A306 in this group are about the review of the national coastal access scheme. Also in this group are two Conservative amendments about the slightly different issue of the review of proposals reports, but it is all about review. I do not think this will take us half an hour.
Amendment A304 suggests that the wording "at least one" in relation to a requirement for the first review of the national coastal access scheme should simply be "the first". It may be a mere point about wording but "at least one" suggests that within the first three years there might be more than one review and that would be over the top, to put it mildly.
Amendment A305 changes three to five, suggesting that three years is not long enough to have a sensible review about how this scheme is working. The review would presumably have to start before the end of those three years, which is not going to leave a lot of time for a sensible review. Clearly at some stage a comprehensive and sensible review has to take place. In many ways it will be the outcomes which show whether the scheme is working in the form of stretches of coast open to access through new paths and access land down to the sea which did not exist before. In order to review whether these are working sensibly, you need experience of using the path and the access land. I am not sure that within three years of approval of the scheme there will be a lot of that experience. I will refer to that in a minute.
Amendment A306 suggests that one of the times when a fundamental review has to take place is after the English coastal route has been completed. That will be a significant and iconic moment and I hope we all live to see it. Once it happens, there will have to be a fundamental review of the scheme because then revisions and proposals for amendments will come in and the regime will have changed.
These amendments are all about the timetable and again I refer to this extremely useful supplementary information from Natural England on coastal access published last December. On page 18, the document sets out the timescale that Natural England would like to see as far as the new coastal access provisions are concerned. Natural England thinks that the legislative process may conclude in 2010 and that it may get formal approval of the scheme in 2010, which obviously is possible although it means everyone has to get their skates on. By 2016, it aims to have an approved alignment for the whole of the English coast. That is ambitious, but it is possible. However, it does not mean that the scheme will have come into effect as far as people using it are concerned. Once the scheme in particular areas has been approved, it has to be put into effect, and that will take some time. It is not a question of a proposal report for a particular section of coast being approved and everyone then being able to go and take advantage. There is going to have to be work on the ground in some areas, and some will require more work than others. In places where there is no access at all, the route will have to be physically created on the ground. That will take time.
Natural England is suggesting another two years, until 2018, before that can happen, and then it is sensibly putting in two years' contingency for potential delays and rescheduling. If there is to be an appeal or review system, which so far in the Bill there is not, that will inevitably cause more delays. Natural England says that by 2020 it aims to have completed the establishment of the new access and commencement of the new access rights, which requires both the proposal for a particular piece of coast to be approved and any necessary ground work to have been carried out.
That timetable is not over-pessimistic; indeed, if everything is in place by 2020, everyone will be doing very well. Having the first review of the scheme after three years, when very few new parts of the coast will have been opened up, is premature. It may be possible, but five years is more realistic. I do not want to slow anything down, but we have to be realistic about what is going to happen and not put a lot of time and effort into reviewing things in a legalistic or bureaucratic way when the effort ought to be put into implementing the scheme on the ground. I beg to move.
I think all parties are agreed that it is important to have a review of the coastal access scheme. I think it is safe to say that we are all in agreement about the importance of a review as soon as possible, in order to assess whether the scheme is functioning and to be able to improve it where it is not.
The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, are therefore uncontroversial, in that he appears to be highlighting the need for such a review and the necessity of it being carried out as soon as practicable. We do not wish to have a review too early and so risk assessing the success of the coastal access scheme on inaccurate, incomplete or misleading information. Thus, increasing the time period available to five years, and making sure that a review is carried out when practicable after completion of the route, seems sensible.
Nevertheless, it is also important to try to carry out a review as soon as possible. That may mean that the scheme has not had time to settle, but it may also be useful for revealing important information. In this way, if there are teething difficulties they can be discovered and dealt with early on, which may reduce problems later. I am therefore cautious about extending my full support to an increase in the number of years before a review has to take place.
I support Amendment A306, however. It is important that the Bill specifies that if the route takes longer to implement than the period allocated for the first review, a further review must take place after the route is completed. As the Bill stands, a review is required after a specific period of time. It surely makes more sense also to link it to progress of the project that it is supposed to be monitoring.
Our amendment ensures that regular reviews of the coastal access report must be made. Moreover, by allowing interested parties to request a report it ensures transparency while making certain that problems are addressed. Amendment A357B develops this further and states that a review may be requested because of proposed or actual changes in land use as regards directions under Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the CROW Act for the exclusion or restriction of access. This is important because it means that changes will be properly assessed and scrutinised. Therefore, together our two amendments cover both bases. They allow for both continuous review and also for specific requests by interested parties, if the situation remains the same or if changes occur. This means that it should be possible for all problems to be identified and solutions to be found. I look forward to the Minister's response.
I rise to speak to Amendment A357B. I have already declared my interest for the Committee stage of this Bill but if I was asked to choose a theme that I felt I most represented in this House it would probably be a vibrant rural economy. It is for that reason that I am generally in favour of access to the countryside, which brings billions of pounds every year into the rural economy. This was why foot and mouth was so disastrous. Although it was a tragedy for farmers, it was much more of a tragedy for those people and those businesses dependent upon visitors. It was extraordinary how wide that particular category turned out to be.
As many of your Lordships know, farming has been through a tough time in the last 10 or 15 years. Every Minister of agriculture, every Secretary of State of Defra, and even myself in a lesser capacity, during those years have been encouraging farmers to look hard at their assets and to see how else they might be able to use them to create an income or, better still, to create employment in the countryside. As ever, the key to a healthy rural economy is diversity, flexibility and continuous response to the market place or even to government signals. Amendment A357B is aimed at catering for this.
The Government have already virtually accepted this amendment. During our last session when we were discussing possible future port expansion, the Minister indicated that flexibility should be the name of the game and that when, and only when, a development or change of use was being proposed by a landowner, Natural England should look at its route to see what it could do and then change the route to safely accommodate that development. The Minister made the point that this would happen when the development was needed rather than at any time before; in other words, keeping the route flexible.
I cannot see that there is any difference between a landowner, a developer who is a port authority, a hotelier or any other rural businessman, or even a farmer. Any proposed development will be subject to the planning process which will ensure that the development is appropriate. Owing to the mind-numbingly lengthy process that all planning applications go through, it will also give all parties months or possibly even years to set out sensible alternative solutions. However, the danger here—this is my main point—is that the current, in other words the first, coastal route, could easily be given a sacrosanct status in the minds of the planners, and the proposed development will be forced to accommodate the existing route, along with being forced to accommodate bats and badgers and great-crested newts. What should happen is that the coastal route should be adjusted to accommodate the development. Proposed land-use changes must be looked at with fresh, non-partisan eyes, without any prejudgment. That is why Amendment A357B is so important.
I have learnt that in your Lordships' House one will not be frowned on too much if one asks what might be a stupid question, because if stupid questions are not asked during debates on legislation, it may turn out after it is enforced that they were not so stupid.
I shall not be afraid, therefore, to raise a point not about timing but about the scope of Clause 289. A distinction has been made in the debate between the scheme and the route but, in the way that this clause has been discussed and the issues raised, it seems that the principles, which I suppose are the scheme, and the route, which is the implementation of the scheme, will be the subject of review. My noble friend expressed that as,
"a review about how this scheme is working".
My question is therefore whether the precise distinction between the scheme and the route is correct in the sense in which the review is framed.
Briefly, I support my noble friend's Amendment A357B on changes in land use. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is right that farmers, landowners and others continuously look to develop their land to bring in additional income. I would cite another example. Last week we stayed at the Nare Hotel, near Veryan, which stands on the cliff over a bay. There are immense problems there due to erosion. A path used to go in front of the hotel but it has been closed due to erosion. Another route has been introduced which goes round the back. That sort of action is common sense and presumably there will be no difficulty with it. While staying there we also discussed caravan sites in that area and in others around the country. Presumably the Bill will not mean that rights of way will go through the middle of those—or will they? So far, we have talked about land use in the accepted sense of farming or conservation of wild birds. In the business sense, however, I wonder what the Government's thinking on this issue is. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, also rightly says that we need to think about planning for the future rather than for an aspect of the past. However, as I highlighted, one pathway which was a right of way could not continue as such because of erosion. Could that affect other development decisions in coastal areas where a coastal path might be considered for access? I support the amendment.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this interesting debate for the extent to which it has probed how Natural England will review aspects of the scheme. Clause 289 enables Natural England to make any necessary improvements or additions to the approved scheme in the light of experience on the ground following implementation of the new rights.
I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I note that rather than saying, "What we want, we want it now", he was going for a longer period than the Government are proposing on review. We suggest within three years. He has taken a somewhat unexpected position but I have listened carefully to what he had to say. However, he must also have taken into account the Select Committee in the other place. It thought that the review ought to take place within one year of establishment work starting on the ground. We are not saying one year. I listened to what the noble Lord has said and I recognise the validity of his points. We need to be able to look at the picture that will develop. However, I assure him that, with Members in the other place taking the view that this could be reassessed very rapidly indeed, if the Government take the position of three years and he takes the position of five years, it looks as though the Government have got it just about right.
I therefore want the noble Lord to consider that important representation from the other place before we finish considering the Bill. It was their view, so he must recognise that, for some, rapid assessment of the position is an important dimension. We take into account all the points that have been made in this debate. We need Natural England to be in a position to learn significant lessons which can be applied in implementing the programme. A review that takes place within three years is both entirely practicable and entirely reasonable.
Amendment A306 would have the effect of requiring Natural England to undertake a review of the scheme as soon as practicable following the completion of the English coastal route. I categorically assure the Committee that, once the coastal route has been completed, both the Government and Natural England will want to review the scheme and the programme of implementation. Noble Lords are pushing not only at an open door but at a door that is firmly affixed in that position, because we recognise that it will be necessary to look at the scheme at that time. That is why, although I entirely accept the sentiment that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, expressed with regard to Amendment A306, it is unnecessary to put it in the Bill. Any such review will, of course, accord with the principle of sound management within the Government and Natural England. Natural England will in due course report to Parliament on its progress after 10 years. We have therefore placed the necessary obligations on Natural England in the Bill. I give certainty about the review, which is what this amendment seeks.
I recognise the reasoning behind Amendment A353, which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, tabled. It would place on Natural England a new duty to review a coastal access report at specified times and, in certain circumstances, at the request of a person with a relevant interest in the land. It is unnecessary to add a new requirement on Natural England to review a coastal access report made under Section 51. The problem with such a review is that it might lead to a large number of requests being made to Natural England, placing on it an entirely unfair burden.
That is also the problem with Amendment A357B. After all, it means that any person with a relevant interest in land could trigger a review on certain grounds. I emphasise that, of course, Natural England is already able to review a report if it thinks that it is necessary. Provisions in the 1949 Act and in the Bill envisage that Natural England will do this of its own volition. Therefore, it is unnecessary for us to accept the two amendments. Nor is it appropriate or necessary to involve the Planning Inspectorate. Chapter 2 of the CROW Act contains existing mechanisms for a landowner to apply for new restrictions and exclusions for certain reasons. The existing rights of a landowner in those terms will stay in place for the coastal margin, with certain modifications to take account of the coastal situation.
There is no need for an additional review of exclusions and directions to be put in place. However, I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said in support of the amendment, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and, of course, to what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said. We will consider further whether there are circumstances in which Natural England should be required to review the proposals. For instance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, indicated, there might be changes to a route, or it might be blocked because land becomes excepted from the right of access, or other difficulties might arise. I accept entirely the point that she made about those circumstances. I think that was also the burden of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. We will consider that matter further. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, raises a significant point, for which he has received support in several parts of the Committee. I hope that I have convinced the Committee that we have considered these issues. We are not in any way expressing a position in the Bill that greatly diverges from the points made this afternoon except with regard to the three-year period. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to bear in mind the point that I made on that issue.
Before the noble Lord sits down, he gave a rather encouraging response on Amendments A353 and A357B. However, I beseech him to appreciate the fact that people enjoy walking through land which is flourishing and is having money spent on it to keep it attractive. If a landowner cannot make his place pay, it becomes derelict. Often the fences and the walls will tumble down. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, noted the importance of being able to make a place pay in order to keep it attractive. It is not just a matter of balancing the interests of land managers who want to make a bit of money and the people who want to walk through land and enjoy it. One cannot always freeze land in its existing state and keep it attractive. It is important to have flexibility so that land managers can, if necessary, change what they do with the land in order to keep it attractive. I hope that the noble Lord will take that point on board.
I have not the slightest hesitation in taking that point on board. If I sat down before the noble Baroness expressed it, I sat down too quickly. I am very glad that she has done so. It is an important point. We all know that the attractiveness of a coastal path is very much measured in terms of the perspective of the countryside through which it passes and that of the sea. We have all experienced paths that pass through arid environments. I have just been walking in southern Sicily. Despite its mature and significant economy, Sicily is in one of the poorer areas of Europe. We all know about the problems connected with the Sicilian economy. One is all too well aware that dereliction and underinvestment can detract from one's appreciation of the countryside. I accept the point that the noble Baroness made and I hope she will recognise that we think we have the necessary provisions to guarantee that that point is met.
This is an encouraging set of amendments. They do not necessarily have all that much in common with the exception of review. However, the review of the scheme and the review of the report comprise two entirely different sections of the Bill. I am grateful for noble Lords' support for the measure and for the contributions from my noble friends Lady Byford and Lady Carnegy and from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. I am particularly pleased that the Minister has responded to those contributions. The only thing that I will caution him on is the maxim that the Government must be right when they find themselves in the middle of two conflicting points of view. There is a once-great political party, of which neither he nor I is a member, that has made a political living out of being in the middle of the road, to perhaps less effect than if it had been able to stake a position in a more positive way. I say to noble Lords, you are not always right when you are in the middle. However, I am very grateful for the Minister's response.
I have always believed that, in politics, if you stand in the middle of the road you get run over. That is why it has never been my political position. You might keep out of the gutter, but there is no point if you are then run over. When I look at the political scene nowadays, wherever the Liberal Democrats stand, it is not in the middle of the road, and it is not half way between two right-wing parties. However, I will not pursue that further as we are discussing one of the rare Bills where I am willing to heap quite a lot of praise on the Government for what they are doing and trying to do. I will not be provocative any longer.
When I moved the amendment, I said that the debate would not take as long as that on dogs, and I was wrong; we are now beating dogs, and I wonder why. I thought that I was moving some probing amendments. The problem with probing is that sometimes you find that, in the area you are probing, the Government have got it wrong. That is the case in this instance and I will explain why.
The Minister said that the Commons EFRA committee had said that it wanted a review within one year of the establishment of rights on the ground. That seems a tenable position. The Government might come back and reword this so that the review of the national scheme takes place after a year or two years, or whatever is thought to be the appropriate period of time following the establishment of a new coastal path and new coastal access rights in the first tranche—I am trying to stop using the word, but will use it now—of the scheme. However, that is not what the Bill says. It says clearly that at least one review—which I suggest should be the first review, but heavens, perhaps there will be more—
"must be completed within the period of 3 years beginning with the day on which a scheme is first approved".
How long will the review take? Will is be a year? Will it be six months? Certainly it must be completed less than three years after the day on which a scheme is first approved. The question that I asked when I moved the amendment was: do the Government believe that this review should take place in the light of experience on the ground? It seems—this is the point that my noble friend Lady Hamwee made—that it is not a review of a national scheme in a vacuum, but a review of the effects of that scheme as implemented.
So how long will it take? I do not want to slow things down at all. I particularly do not want to slow down the implementation of the new coastal access rights. I refer again to the very useful coastal access draft scheme that Natural England has published. I have here one of the rare glossy coloured versions. Section 3.1 on page 8 sets out the implementation process. There is a very useful chart entitled, "Overview of the implementation process". Stage 1 is "Collection and analysis of relevant information"; stage 2 is "Walking the course"; stage 3 is "Draft proposals"; stage 4 is "Consultation on draft proposals"; and stage 5 is "Final report". That is the report that goes to the Secretary of State. Putting aside any new appeal or review system that might be added to the Bill as it goes through Parliament, there is still the opportunity to make representations, at stage 6. Stage 7 is "Submission to Secretary of State", and stage 8 is "Preparation and commencement of rights".
The final report is dealt with at stage 5. I quote paragraph 3.1.7, because it is important. It states:
"We estimate that it will take 2 to 2 1/2 years to prepare a final report for submission to the Secretary of State (stages 1 to 7). Following the Secretary of State's decision, we estimate that it will take a further six to eighteen months for establishment works before the access rights can commence ... These are early estimates which we will test and refine as we develop our operational plan".
I suggest that the timetable is likely to stretch if, as seems likely, some rather more comprehensive appeal or review systems and rights are inserted as the Bill goes through Parliament.
That means that if a series of pieces of coastline are chosen for implementation immediately after the scheme is approved, it will be two to two and a half years before any of them get to the Secretary of State and another six to 18 months for establishment works to commence. That means that it will be two and a half to four years from the approval of the national scheme before anything happens on the ground. There is no point in reviewing what has happened on the ground until there is some experience of how it is working, so I would add another year to that. We are then saying that it would be three and a half to five years before anything is worth reviewing and before there is anything on the ground to review that has been in operation for a reasonable period of time; say, 12 months. That brings us to five years.
Putting in legislation that the review has to be completed within three years is a guarantee that there will be nothing on the ground to look at and to use as experience while that review is taking place and when it is finished. That seems to be the incontrovertible arithmetic of what is written down here. The Government have got it wrong, and they ought to go away and look at it again and go back to what the EFRA Committee in the House of Commons said, which was 12 months after implementation on the ground. If everything speeds up, and the draft forecasts from Natural England turn out to be wrong and it can all be done a lot quicker, if you tie it to implementation on the ground, it does not matter because, however long or short a time it takes, you have a sensible system. At the moment, as it is set out in the Bill, I do not think that it is a sensible system, and I ask the Government to look at this again.
I have listened to the noble Lord's arithmetic, and can say that we will consider this matter because, after all, he is suggesting that this framework may prove to be more realistic as regards the operation of Natural England. The whole Committee will want things to move as rapidly as possible, as will the general public and all those who support the concept of the path, which has a great deal of support indeed. The noble Lord has made a significant point about why he thinks that five years is more realistic, and I will look at that and consider it further.
I am grateful for that, and I hope that they will also look at adopting the EFRA proposal rather than the more rigid one, as it is flexible and more sensible. As we can have some discussion about this before another stage, I am grateful for what the Minister said and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A304 withdrawn.
Amendments A305 and A306 not moved.
Clause 289 agreed.
Clause 290 : The English coast
Moved by Lord Greaves
A307: Clause 290, page 176, line 5, after "including" insert—
"(a) the Isle of Wight,
(b) Lundy Island, and
I hope that this will not take as long as the debate on dogs did, or we will be here all night—although I remember discussing dogs in the CROW Bill at about three o'clock in the morning. People said that we were barking mad. In moving Amendment A307, I shall speak to Amendments A308 to A312 inclusive. This group is about islands, and partly puts the point that the two large islands, the Isle of Wight and Lundy Island, really ought to be in anyway because it is absolutely clear that they are large enough to have a reasonable coast around them. In the case of Lundy Island, a wonderful place, there is no problem at all about access to the coast. As of now, that takes place through those hardy bands of people who go there on their holidays. The Isle of Wight is slightly more complicated, but has some good coastal walking. They ought to be specified in the Bill, in our view, which is what Amendment A307 does.
Amendment A308 probes the question of excluded islands, a concept that the Bill sets out in Clause 290(2) and (3). Subsection (2) says that,
"An island is "excluded""— and, therefore, not included in the coastal access rights—
"if it is neither ... an accessible island, nor ... an island specified by the Secretary of State by order for the purposes of this paragraph".
Amendment A308 probes what that means; what criteria will the Secretary of State use to specify an island? Which islands are likely to be specified and which are not?
Amendment A309 addresses a slightly different issue. It would specify that an island will not be excluded if it can be reached by ferry. Amendment A310 does the same thing a different way round, saying that it is accessible if you can,
"travel to it by ferry".
The logic there is that when the coastal path comes to estuaries, ferries are counted as part of it if that is the sensible and appropriate thing there. It is not clear why that should not be the case for islands, so the amendment is to probe that issue.
Amendment A311 would leave out the word "long-distance" in the part of the Bill that refers to islands being accessible if there could possibly be,
"one or more long-distance routes along its length".
The problem is that those may be quite small islands, where the word "long-distance" is inappropriate. What is "long-distance" in this context? In the context of the 1949 Act, it is defined as a long-distance route—not through a particular length but by definition. If the Cleveland way, the Pennine way and the south-west coastal path are said to be long-distance routes, that is defined under the Act, so that is what it means there. Here, however, I think that "long-distance" is being used differently, to mean a long distance. There will be many islands where people will argue that you cannot have a long-distance walk, unless you go round and round umpteen times, so the word is not appropriate. There may well also be an island where, although its coast is a relatively short distance, however that is defined, it is nevertheless sensible to include it in part of the long-distance coastal route as an optional diversion. The word "long-distance", then, appears problematic and the purpose of the amendment is to probe that.
Finally, Amendment A312 is on the same issue about islands; it would leave out "an extensive", so it is the same as the long-distance point. These amendments are all about islands; some are, quite clearly, insignificant; some ought to be excluded, but some clearly ought to be included. Our purpose here is to find out the Government's thinking on which ought to be included, and on what basis. I beg to move.
The noble Lord referred somewhat casually to the thought that Lundy Island, because it is a wonderful place, should be included in all of this. I have to declare an interest, in that Lundy Island is run by the Landmark Trust, which was founded by my late brother-in-law and my sister. That island is hugely attractive, as the noble Lord said, and people love to go there—but they do that because it is as it is. I would have thought the last thing they would want is a path around it. I did not spot this amendment until today, so I have not consulted at all, but I hope that the Government would not accept the suggestion that Lundy Island should be included in the Bill without extensive consultation with the Landmark Trust and the users there, because it seems a thoroughly bad idea. I do not know whether the noble Lord has consulted the Landmark Trust, and do not want to prolong this endless process of looking at the Bill's detail, but I feel that I must say that.
I had no idea of my noble friend's connection with Lundy when I prepared these notes, but it rather reinforces my position. I find myself in danger of putting myself in the middle of the road, in that I can agree with the principle in the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but I am not sure if I can fully support these changes in reality. The noble Lord is most concerned that the coastal access route should cover as much of the country as possible. I have much sympathy with that viewpoint; there should be a priority to increase public access to the coast for enjoyment and recreational purposes. Nevertheless, these amendments go a bit too far.
Amendment A307 would include the Isle of Wight and Lundy Island under the coastal access scheme. I wonder why the noble Lord feels that to be necessary when, as my noble friend has already said, Lundy Island is owned by the Landmark Trust and is a hub for visitors undertaking many different forms of recreation, while the Isle of Wight has,
"the most concentrated network of public rights of way in the UK".
These islands are set up to actively encourage coastal enjoyment.
Amendments A309 and A310 are designed to include islands that can also be reached by ferry; Amendments A311 and A312 are drafted to ensure that even very small islands are included. I can see, and sympathise with, the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for including every part of England in the coastal access scheme. Nevertheless, it is important to accept that there would be enormous difficulties if the proposals from the noble Lord were accepted. It would mean, for example, considerable further investment and complex work in order to ensure that every island would be safely and securely maintained.
Furthermore, it would involve increased activity and possible threat to wildlife or livestock on islands on which far fewer people would otherwise have recourse to visit. Moreover, if they did, they could make use of the already extant rights of way, which are often available. The noble Lord has honourable and noble intentions, but his desire to blanket the coastline of every small island in England may result in more damage than is necessary. At the heart of the Bill, we must find a balance. That has been the case in our many debates about sustainable development and now forms the basis of our discussion about coastal access. We want people to have increased access around the English coast, but we do not want that to be taken to such extremes that it causes problems and disrupts communities because paths are created for the sake of having paths. We must take account of the checks and balances and act accordingly.
Amendment A311 raises some interesting questions. Clause 290(2)(b) allows the Secretary of State to specify islands that will be included under the coastal access scheme. Can the Minister tell us more about how about how the process will work, bearing in mind my previous comments, and tell us which islands are under consideration? I look forward to his response.
I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate. If the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is taking up a position midway between that of the Government, which mainly concerns the coastal route on the mainland, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which is to include the islands, he is going to get very wet—more in danger of drowning than of being knocked over.
My real grievance with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is that he has taken most of the points I was going to make. I substantially agree with him that islands raise some complex issues. We clearly could not include all islands. Noble Lords will recognise the problems consequent on that, given that some islands are very small. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has focused on Lundy and the Isle of Wight, and I will come to them in a moment.
I recognise that many people will want the coastal access route to be extended to islands around the English coast, where that is practicable, so that they can enjoy the wonderful scenery and wildlife that the islands provide. Clause 290 defines the English coast for the purposes of this part, and islands that are accessible on foot will be considered part of the English coast—which of course includes Holy Island and other islands that may at certain times be cut off but are nevertheless for part of the time accessible by foot by means of a causeway. Where islands are not accessible by foot, they can be included by an order of the Secretary of State as long as he is satisfied that the coast of the island is long enough to offer a long-distance route enabling the public to make an extensive journey on foot.
I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said about how long counts as extensive. The requirement in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 specifies an extensive journey on foot. That is reasonable given the concept of the coastal path and obviates the necessity for us to consider access to very small islands, on which the concept of significant walking on a coastal path would be almost meaningless. The amendment insists that both the Isle of Wight and Lundy would automatically be included as part of the English coast. My noble friend Lord Hunt responded to a Parliamentary Question earlier this year by saying that we would indeed consider the extent to which they qualified as being accessible under the current provisions of the Bill.
The Isle of Wight is not included because it cannot be reached on foot, but of course there are regular, consistent services to the Isle of Wight guaranteed for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the Isle of Wight comes into a very specific category. We will look further at that issue; our minds are not closed about it. I just make the obvious point that, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, emphasised, the Isle of Wight has extensive provision for coastal walks already. As the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, said, access to Lundy guarantees extensive possibilities—virtually the whole of the island can be traversed on foot.
We do not want to be restrictive about islands. We will consult further on the issue with the Isle of Wight and I entirely accept the point made by the noble Baroness: the Government need to think seriously about Lundy, not least because access is somewhat different from that to the Isle of Wight. On other islands, access is also governed by what links there are from the mainland. It goes without saying that it is meaningless to talk about opportunity if there is no regular service. That is why we recognise the importance of access by foot or ferry being included in the definition of the English coast. What about those islands which people can access by boat, but which do not have a regular ferry service?
While the Minister is describing the Government's general approach to this issue in a very helpful way, perhaps he would comment on the specific issue of the Isles of Scilly, which are referred to in subsection (7), which refers to Section 297. I know that the governance of the Isles of Scilly is unusual and perhaps somewhat anomalous, but I presume that the Government intend to extend similar consultation on and therefore delineation of access to the coast of at least the larger isles in that group.
The noble Lord indicates the difficulties we have. The larger and smaller islands in that group scarcely fit in any concept of an extensive walk and therefore run counter to the principle behind the Bill. I hear what the noble Lord says. There are particular difficulties with regard to Scilly different from those of the Isle of Wight or Lundy. We accept the broad proposition that the coastal route would be enhanced by taking into account those islands that are accessible—even if an island is accessible only for part of the day by a causeway. We will also look at the question of the two particular islands: the Isle of Wight and Lundy. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, has already explained why Lundy fits into a significant category. It is already in the possession of the Landmark Trust and only a very limited part of Lundy is inaccessible to anyone who wants to walk it once they get there.
I would not say that it has, but the noble Baroness will recognise that they are grouped together in an amendment, to which I am replying. She is absolutely right: Lundy scarcely raises an issue about access for walking. As we have already considered in this short debate, it is true that the Isle of Wight also has very extensive access to its coastal areas and therefore might be regarded as not necessarily within the Bill's framework. However, we will look at that point further in the noble Lord's amendment. The Government's case is that the Bill gives the flexibility to treat islands around the English coast appropriately. Obviously, the islands vary in terms of the criteria that they might need to meet. They allow for the coastal route to include islands which are accessible on foot, and other islands will be included after discussion and consultation and consideration of the views of those with a local interest.
If the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, tabled these amendments to probe the Government's perspective then, in terms of intent, we are entirely with him. However, he will also recognise that there is a vast disparity between the nature of the islands around the English coast and that the Bill has to provide some flexibility and demarcation in that regard. This being a probing amendment, I hope he will recognise that he can safely withdraw it, as the Government are looking at the matter in a manner largely consistent with his own perspective.
I thought that the last sentence of the Minister's speech was completely opposite to everything else he said, but I will read it very carefully in Hansard. I thank him very much for the care he has taken going into this issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that the Isle of Wight did not need to be there. He could apply the same argument to much of the south-west and just miss it out of the Bill. It seems to me that the case for the Isle of Wight is overwhelming. It is a large, free-standing island which by and large possesses the same characteristics as a large part of the English coast and the hinterland of that coast. There is no reason why the Isle of Wight should not be included. I was grateful for what the Minister said about that island.
The answer we need from the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is why it should not be included. The mainland coast is going to be there, whatever its present condition and access provision, so why should the Isle of Wight not be there? Obviously, Lundy Island is a very different place from the Isle of Wight, and the reason why those two islands have been mentioned is that they are the two obvious examples of large, free-standing islands in England—apart from the Scilly Isles, which are referred to in a completely different section of the Bill, for reasons that people say are "all the usual reasons", which I do not understand. I am told by people who know the Scilly Isles that I do not really want to understand. So there we go. It is too complicated.
I do not want to see every small island included, and that is not what my amendment suggests in any shape or form. What I had hoped was that the Government would give us some idea of the criteria which they will apply. Apart from the Isle of Wight, I do not think that I got a single useful comment from the Minister on that. He was very good at disguising the fact that he was not going to give me an answer to that, and certainly was not going to give me a list of names of islands that might be included. But we will have to live with that for a short time.
Finally, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that what the Minister says about Lundy is absolutely correct. You can walk anywhere on Lundy. I have walked around the coast of Lundy, I have climbed on the cliffs, and I have gone down perilous, steep, grassy slopes to the beaches and back again. It is a great, fun place to be, so in a sense it does not need to be included. The real danger of not including places, though, is the old danger that if they are not included, some people will come along and say, "It is not included. Therefore at some future stage we will start to introduce restrictions which are not there at the moment". That is the argument used by horse riders, for example. It is an argument which has been used on CROW land all the way. There is an issue there. Regardless of whether it is needed in a utilitarian way immediately, if it ought to be in, it ought to be in. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A307 withdrawn.
Amendments A308 to A312 not moved.
Clause 290 agreed.
Clause 291 : River estuaries
Amendments A313 to A316 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
A316A: Clause 291, page 176, line 35, leave out "(3)(b)" and insert "(3)"
In moving this amendment, I will also speak to Amendment A318A. My amendments in this group seek to probe how the establishment of a coastal route will be handled when we come to estuaries. We touched on this matter on the previous day in Committee, enough to tell me that, once again, I might be on the opposite side of the argument to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. He is not in his place at the moment, so perhaps we will not hear from him on this issue. But my difference with him on the basic projection of how this path is going to be brought in is a matter of pragmatism. There are notorious difficulties with some areas: islands are one of them and estuaries are another. So the thinking behind these amendments is to acknowledge that difficulty and ensure that problems with estuaries do not hold up the development of the routes as a whole.
My amendments seek to ensure that Natural England takes special care when designating the routes around estuaries, especially as regards environmental considerations. Estuaries are, of course, where some of the most important and unfortunately fragile wildlife habitats are to be found. As the Bill is drafted, it seems that a right of access will be driven through potentially sensitive areas for the sole aim of joining up two parts of the coastal path. I hope the Minister will be able to assure me that this is not the case.
It would seem more sensible to put in an aim that the coastal route should not come to an abrupt end in the middle of nowhere. Moreover, given that estuaries are generally either more built up than the coast, or liberally scattered with conservation sites, would it not be more sensible to place the duty on Natural England to find the most convenient right of way at which to end the coastal route? Walkers wanting to continue their journey would then have the opportunity to go on without having to backtrack, but would not be sent through unsuitable ground.
As regards the wider approach to estuaries, we are pleased to see that Natural England retains some discretion as to whether to continue the route into the relevant upstream waters. This is again a point where I anticipate we might find ourselves in disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves.
Although the continuity of the coastal route is, of course, desirable, it is not, to us, the overwhelming priority. Increasing access to the coast is our priority, and forcing Natural England to spend scarce resources on an estuarial route rather than on a coastal route seems counterproductive. Some estuaries may be relatively easy to incorporate into the coastal route, but many will not. Not only are there the environmental considerations I have spoken of, but there are developments such as ports and marinas, which we have already discussed at considerable length as being unsuitable for the route. We are talking about land which is much more likely to be built on or developed. Unlike other long-distance footpaths, which by definition have been designed to avoid developed areas, as soon as you get into estuaries, there are considerable problems associated with development.
The primary aim for Natural England should be to establish the quickest and easiest way for walkers to get to the other side of the estuary, back on to coastal land, where they can continue their walk. I beg to move.
I have given notice of my intention to oppose the Question that this clause stand part, not because I want to take it out but because, having read it and reread it, I am not clear about exactly how it will work. When I thought about it, it became clear that it needed to be debated.
Having read stuff produced by Natural England on how it is going to go about this matter, and having discussed it with the Minister and his team and read a lot of the material, I am a little clearer on what is going to happen but still not completely clear. I apologise for not being present to hear the first part of what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, although I understand that he thought that I would disagree with him—but when you have to go, you have to go. However, I heard what he said towards the end and I suspect that, if we looked in a practical way at particular estuaries, we would agree more often than disagree. It is a question of what should be in the legislation and how it should be defined.
There are two issues about which I am still not at all clear. One is the question of estuarial waters. The relevance of the nature of the waters to a coastal path is not clear to me. It seems that the other issues in this clause concerning whether it looks and feels like coastal land, and the practicalities of it—river crossings and so on—are far more relevant than the nature of the water and whether it is salt or fresh water. I do not know how people walking round the coast are supposed to know about that anyhow. Therefore, I am not sure that that is the right definition.
If you are going to define an estuary, you should simply draw a line and say that that is where the estuary starts—from a common-sense, geographical point of view. The Thames estuary starts where you can draw a line along the mouth of the estuary. I do not think that that is particularly relevant so long as Natural England has the ability and flexibility to go upstream where that is sensible. That will have to be decided on a case-by-case basis. There are estuaries and estuaries. Where does the Severn estuary start? Does it start at Land's End? Clearly not, or perhaps it does, but does it matter? The north coast of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset is all clearly coastal. Where does the Severn start and the Bristol Channel finish? It is a matter of opinion, is it not? Therefore, talking about estuarial waters and that kind of thing is irrelevant.
There is the Severn and the Bristol Channel, but with big estuaries, such as those of the Thames, the Mersey and the Humber, one just has to take common-sense decisions. Then there are lots of little estuaries, particularly on the east coast of Essex, for example. I do not know when an estuary turns into a creek or whatever, but it is all very complicated and I do not think that people are particularly concerned about whether the coastal path goes up and down every little inlet. It would be absurd if it did and I do not think that anyone is arguing that it should. Common-sense views have to be taken in certain places. That seems to be the essence of the matter, and I think that this part of the Bill should be better drafted to say that.
One document—I could not find it because Hansard had taken it away to copy it—talks about the work schemes which Natural England is getting on with now, one of which is some sort of pilot project to look at how a particular estuary might work. Does the Minister have any information on which estuary it is, how typical it might be and whether we can judge that? I believe that, when they come out, the results of that piece of work will be very important as an indication of how estuaries will be looked at.
The final point is the question of how far upstream the path goes and the ability to go to the first crossing point. There may be some instances where there is a sensible case for taking the coastal path upstream beyond the first crossing point if it leads to a place where the path can sensibly finish—in a village or the edge of a town or whatever. I am not suggesting that the path should go through dockyards or marinas or whatever. Clearly, we all agree that, when things such as that block the coast, the path will either have to stop or go round them. Therefore, no nonsensical ideas are being put forward here. However, the first crossing point may be a ferry, which may be seasonal, as we discussed in a previous session. When is a ferry a ferry? Is it a ferry if it runs in the summer, if it runs two days a week, if it is mechanically propelled or if people are just taken across in a rowing boat every so often? There are real difficulties in defining ferries and I am not sure that the Government have completely sorted it out. It is a difficult subject and it may not be possible to deal with it in the Bill. The definition may have to be left pretty flexible and vague, relying on the sense of Natural England and the processes of appeal and so on. In many cases, there may well be a great deal of sense in saying, "Get on with the rest of the coast and worry about the estuaries at the end". Therefore, I do not think that there is a huge amount between us. What matters is that we get a system implemented on the ground and that it makes sense in the unique circumstances of each estuary.
I rise to speak to my Amendment 319A, which is in this group and is a probing amendment. As I read Clause 291(7) on page 177 of the Bill, it looks as though there might be a conflict of interest, and I seek clarification on that. It seems to imply that Natural England and the Secretary of State can act against each other. I hope that the Minister tells me that that is not so but I shall be grateful to know what the Government intend in that subsection.
I support my noble friend's comments about estuaries. In the Joint Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, we had quite a long discussion on the question of where estuaries begin and finish, and whether the first crossing is appropriate. My noble friend highlighted an important point, which I refer to on page 89 of the Joint Committee's report:
"There will also be sensitive habitats which require either permanent or seasonal restriction of access. The other main interruption to the path will come in the form of commercial businesses and private properties, of which there are many along the coast".
The difficulty with this Bill is in trying to find a sensitive way of opening up access in particular areas, especially in estuaries. My amendment is very specific and I should be grateful for clarification.
I support my noble friend in his plea for a common-sense approach. The point at which I became completely confused in Clause 291 was in trying to read subsection (3)(b) against subsection (4)(f). Subsection (3)(b) deals with "downstream" of the point described in subsection (3)(a). Under subsection (4), Natural England has regard to matters which are listed in taking its decision under subsection (3)(b). Those matters are listed in subsection (4). Paragraph (f) says that it has to consider,
"whether it is desirable to continue the ... route to a particular physical feature".
I read that as being upstream of the point in subsection (3)(a), otherwise there would be no need to mention it. However, subsections (4) and (3)(b) deal with "downstream". I hope that your Lordships are with me with so far.
My difficulty may be, as my noble friend identified, not understanding what is meant by "estuarial waters" within the limits of transitional waters within the directive—that is in the interpretation clause. My goodness, if one has to go round and round in such circles, it certainly argues for trying to cut through this and find the sort of common-sense approach that my noble friend was describing.
That was a very interesting debate and I accept that both the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in his discussion on clause stand part, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, are probing. They and other noble Lords have very eloquently described some of the challenges relating to the coastal access path and estuaries. Let me make it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that the Government do not want to send walkers through inappropriate areas. The point he made is well taken and I agree with him that there should not be a sense of Natural England being forced down the estuaries, but there are some estuaries where it makes sense and is appropriate for the path to follow some part of the estuary. The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was that there might be a case for flexibility regarding estuaries, because of the different natures of many estuaries and some of the challenges involved. I think he is right and that is why we prefer the wording of the Bill. I assure noble Lords that in making provision for estuaries in the Bill, we do not want to overcomplicate matters; we do not want Natural England to have to spend enormous time worrying about estuaries at the expense of the coastal path. I hope that it helps noble Lords when I make that very clear from this Dispatch Box.
Does the Minister accept the position that I have come to—that the wording in the Bill is not flexible enough?
Not entirely. I am going to comment sympathetically on one amendment, so I am hoping to give greater flexibility and answer some of the points that noble Lords raised. I have not detected much disagreement between noble Lords on this as a matter of principle; it is just a question of whether we have the wording absolutely right.
In general, Clause 291 gives Natural England the flexibility to propose the establishment of the route up estuaries to the first pedestrian crossing point. It makes it clear that Natural England can decide not to extend the route at any point between the mouth of the river—the seaward limit of the estuarial waters, where the fresh water of a river mixes with the salt water of the open sea—and the first crossing point. In such cases, there would a break in the continuity of the route. We recognise that estuaries throw up particular challenges—they are very variable in extent, they are very important for wildlife and they may be more developed, as noble Lords have said, than the open coast. We think it important that Natural England should have the flexibility to decide on the approach to estuaries on a case-by-case basis. I think that that is the common-sense approach that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, suggests, but I am interested in his views on the wording—whether there is enough flexibility—and I will give them some consideration.
In deciding whether to make a recommendation to stop the route at any point between the mouth of the river and the first crossing point, Natural England must have regard to both the general considerations in Clause 287 and the additional matters in Clause 291(4), which include, among others, the nature of the land, the topography of the shoreline, the width of the river upstream to the first crossing point and the existence of a ferry by which the public may cross the river.
I fully understand the point about estuarial waters. Clause 299 says that,
"'estuarial waters' means any waters within the limits of transitional waters, within the meaning of the Water Framework Directive (that is to say, Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of
This definition is used in Clause 291, which refers to estuarial waters for the purpose of describing where the route may be established beside an estuary. I understand entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, meant when he asked about the relevance of the definition of estuarial waters. We needed a convenient method to specify the outer parameter for considering estuaries. As he says, what an estuary is is a matter of opinion, but we needed an outer limit to act as a starting point; it is no more than a starting point. Natural England can then consult and discuss what a common-sense approach to an estuary is. We think we have sufficient flexibility, but with a clearly defined point from which Natural England can start.
The Minister reading out those technical details about this European directive, or whatever it is, just shows how irrelevant it is as a criterion for people walking around the coast. It has nothing to do with people walking around the coast, and has been decided upon and agreed for completely different purposes. When you have big estuaries, you have to make common-sense decisions, but the Minister referred to "the mouth of the river" and in most cases, most people looking at the mouth of a river would say, "That is the mouth of the river". Why do the Government not talk about "the mouth of the river" rather than about the chemical composition of the water at any particular place?
To be frank, it is a convenient definition. Surely it is important for Natural England to have a definition which is understood and which it can start from. We have the flexibility, but Natural England does not have to use that. We have the provision for it to go up the estuary, but that is the main reason for any use. I realise that one is always open to criticism when one reads a technical definition out, but at least there is clarity and that is important.
The noble Lord asked about pilot schemes. I do not have details about where they are being undertaken, but I shall find out and let noble Lords know, certainly in time for Report. On the question of sensitive habitats raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I understand the point well. Restrictions and exclusions of access may be applied on estuaries, as on other parts of the coastal route, and they may be applied for reasons of natural conservation. We all know that many estuaries are places of outstanding importance to the environment and to wildlife. Of course, it is important that those are protected and that will be a consideration that Natural England will have to pay attention to.
On the amendments, I shall start with Amendment A316A, where the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is arguing that Natural England should have to take into account all the criteria in Section 291(4) when deciding to go up to either the first crossing point or any point between the mouth of the river and the first crossing point. Having listened to his argument, I have no difficulties in accepting the principle behind this amendment, which would mean that Natural England must not decide to continue the route up to the first crossing point solely on the basis of the desirability of the continuity of the route. The criteria in this clause were tailored to be applied in the case that Natural England might propose that the coastal route should go up to a point between the mouth of the estuary and the first crossing point. I will take this point and look at it again with a view to bringing forward an amendment on Report that makes the considerations listed in Clause 291(4) apply to all decisions about estuaries. In that sense, I hope that that greater flexibility also meets the very sensible common-sense test that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has put forward.
Amendment A318A would add a further matter on the existence of environmental designations to the list of considerations in Clause 291(4) and require Natural England to explain in its coastal access report how the recreational benefits, set out in subsection (4)(d), outweigh any of the other matters. I understand what the noble Lord is saying, but I do not think that it is needed. Natural England will be under a duty to strike a fair balance, which we have discussed before, and will need to consider that balance as part of its report. It will undertake a detailed analysis on each estuary. It has already set out in its draft scheme information on the special considerations it will take into account in making a recommendation on any particular estuary. It will also comply with its existing statutory obligations in respect of sites and features on the coast.
The point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, in her Amendment A319A is interesting and I can understand why it has been put forward. The substance of the argument is that we believe it is important for the Secretary of State to be able to come to a different conclusion to Natural England about decisions on estuaries. But the provision in the Bill is worded in the way that it is because we want to avoid any suggestion that the Secretary of State's decision is pre-empted by the combination of subsection (5) and Natural England's decision under subsections (2) and (3). I readily accept that it is a rather complicated way of doing so, but the essence is that the coastal access duty of the Secretary of State is independent from that of Natural England. The Secretary of State must be able to come to a separate decision on that, in the same way as he can disagree with Natural England's proposals in a coastal access report. However, I accept that the way in which it has been drafted is complicated, so I understand why the noble Baroness has proposed her amendment.
The noble Baroness is not wrong. It is because of the way in which the whole clause has been drafted. I am in danger of giving aid to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on this matter. I am happy to write to the noble Baroness with further details. She is right in what she says in substance and, as she said, the principle is no different from the other points in the Bill which relate to the coastal access path in general.
I have nothing more to say specifically on what has been discussed. I shall make just two points. My first has no relevance to this Bill. One of the great access battles of the future will be about access along watercourses, which may resolve the estuarial problem in due course. That is some years away, but it is there and will happen. Secondly, I forgot to ask whether Morecambe Bay is part of the coast or an estuary.
I do not know.
This debate has been very useful. I think that all sides of the Committee find themselves in the middle of the path. It is very good that the debate has proved to be positive. It is unfortunate that it has shown just how difficult it is to move the business of the Committee on. We are dealing with complicated topics. One of the virtues of having time to discuss these matters properly has been the consideration of this quite complex matter. I am grateful for the notice that the Minister has given that he will look at Amendment A316A, and no doubt in the process he will look at all elements of this clause. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A316A withdrawn.
Amendments A317 and A318 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment A318A not moved.
Amendment A319 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment A319A not moved.
Amendment A320 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 291 agreed.
Clause 292 : Long-distance routes
Amendments A321 to A325 not moved.
Moved by Lord Greaves
A326: Clause 292, page 178, line 9, leave out "may" and insert "is likely within the next ten years to"
I appear to have lost my notes, which perhaps will speed things up a little. These amendments are about what happens when erosion occurs along the coast. In moving Amendment A326, I shall speak also to Amendments A328A, A329, A330 and A358DA in this group. Amendment A326 would clarify the circumstances under which the report into the proposals for a particular piece of coast would find it necessary to identify coast which was going to retreat and to identify alternative retreat lines in the likelihood of coastal erosion. At the moment, the Bill states that this should happen where the coast "may" be liable to retreat. I suggest that we should leave out the word "may" and insert the words, "is likely within the next ten years".
The draft scheme put forward by Natural England suggests that 20 years could be the appropriate length of time. This is a probing amendment to determine what the Bill means and what sort of timescale would be thought to be appropriate. Clearly, at some stage a report for a particular part of the coast could be amended by means of a review. If a coast was likely to erode back to the line of the route within, say, 50 years, it would not have to be dealt with immediately. What timescale are the Government thinking of for it to be dealt with in the report?
Amendment A328A is a consequential amendment. Amendment A329 has been tabled to probe the meaning of the words,
"geomorphological processes in relation to which the Agency has functions".
New Section 55B(6), to be inserted in the 1949 Act, will state:
"Natural England must consult the Environment Agency before exercising its powers", in respect of sub-paragraph (a), which makes provision in respect of rollback when there is erosion. It says:
"Natural England must consult the Environment Agency ... in respect of an area which is or may be ... subject to significant coastal erosion or encroachment by the sea", which is sensible and understandable,
"or ... subject to significant physical change due to other geomorphological processes in relation to which the Agency has functions".
I do not understand what that means. Geomorphological processes by and large are the processes of weathering, erosion and deposition. I do not know what other processes there are that might be covered by the suggestion that the Environment Agency has functions in relation to them. I am, however, glad to see that the word "geomorphological" is being used in this context.
Amendment A330 would insert,
"subject to significant physical change as a result of actions by the Agency or other public body".
At the moment rollback, as I understand it, refers to natural processes of natural erosion and other geomorphologicalprocesses. There might be circumstances in which there must be rollback because of actions by the Environment Agency or any other public body. An obvious example is part of the east coast of England being flooded as part of protecting the land against rising sea levels—land that has been reclaimed in the past and which is now being sent back to the sea—which might result in having to put the line of the route in a different place if the flooding was not planned or making provision for the line of the route to change if the coast is flooded later.
Finally, Amendment A358DA in a sense goes back to the question of what happens to rollback when the line of the route is along a public right of way and not on newly created access land. We discussed this in our debate on higher rights such as horse-riding and the fact that if they are along a right of way, the rollback provisions will not protect the right of way but will create new access land: or will they? What exactly will happen if the line of the coastal route is along an existing right of way—a footpath or a bridleway—and rollback provisions are thought to be necessary? Will those rollback provisions be put in regardless but relate to access land as opposed to a right of way? How will that work? This is a complicated matter, and I am not sure that it has been completely thought through. If it has been completely thought through, it has not been explained to me in a way that I yet understand properly. I beg to move.
My Amendment A326A is linked with this group and is another probing amendment. In our brief discussions on an earlier amendment, I gave the example of the Nare Hotel in Cornwall and erosion that had affected the pathway. By local agreement, it has now been put behind the hotel. I refer again to that sort of subject.
I suggest that we remove new Section 55B(4) in Clause 292 in order to have a discussion about the whole question of rollback. I know the east coast quite well. Just up from Southwold is Covehythe. Below it is Dunwich, which is now in the sea; there is very little left. Covehythe has lost nearly three miles of coastland. The question is therefore what happens to a pathway when it is realigned? Is there a risk that it could be put through a farmyard, farm business park or private estate? What comeback would the owner of that property, who may well not have been the owner of the original pathway that is now no more and is in the sea, have when the pathway is redesignated?
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, is no longer in his place, but quite a few areas along the north Norfolk coast—Suffolk and Essex have been mentioned before—face a considerable threat of new erosion. If there is to be a recognised path for people to walk on, what will happen when so much of it is no longer in being and the new path is likely to go across another owner's land in place of the traditional path that had been agreed in the past? That is the reasoning behind my amendment, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
One of the inherent difficulties with a route of this sort is that we have to provide not only for a proper method for setting up the path but for a way of incorporating changes as the paths are affected by weather, erosion and other physical changes.
The Bill allows alternative routes to be proposed that can be used during specified periods, in place of exclusions from Chapter II in Part I of the CROW Act, or for reasons of flooding, erosion or geomorphological processes. It also allows Natural England, when an area is subject to erosion or physical damage, to set out proposals for any part of the route to be changed in accordance with these proposals. On one hand this seems sensible; there will obviously be physical changes to the route, as flooding, erosion or exclusions under the CROW Act will mean that access to the ordinary route is blocked or impossible. We do not want walkers scrabbling around the edge of a cliff trying to stick to the original path.
Nevertheless, some equilibrium has to be found. Amendment A326A, in the name of my noble friend Lady Byford, flags up the issue that, under the Bill, the route can be determined by reference to the edge of a cliff or the boundary of a field. Will the Minister inform the Committee whether there will be any restraints on the changes that can be made? Does he agree that a sensible balance must be maintained, or does he argue that landowners should be expected to watch as the path creeps further and further into their land or farmyard?
On a tangential point, new Section 55B(6) requires Natural England to consult the Environment Agency under certain conditions. Will the Minister say whether, before changes to the route are made under this part of the Bill, Natural England will,
"consult such persons as it considers appropriate", as per Clause 288(5)? Before changes are made, will Natural England consult all interested parties, particularly the occupier of the land, on those changes?
I declare my support for Amendment A326 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. This amendment would usefully clarify a timeframe for assessing whether an area "may" be subject to erosion "within the next ten years". Does the Minister agree that this is a useful definition? Surely without this timeframe, it could be argued that any area is subject to the possibility of erosion or physical change at some unspecified time in the future.
Amendments A329 and A330, which are also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, also seem sensible, as they would guarantee that Natural England had to consult the Environment Agency before making changes to the route, even if the geomorphological pressures causing the change had nothing to do with the Environment Agency itself. Does the Minister agree that it is important that the Environment Agency is included in the consultation process, bearing in mind that my consultation process would include all interested parties, including occupiers of the land? I will be interested to hear his response.
This has been an interesting debate. Clause 292 inserts new sections into Part IV of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. New Section 55B provides for the coastal route to roll back where the cliff is subject to significant erosion or other forms of coastal change and says that in relevant areas, the route may be identified according to the proposals made in Natural England's report, for example, by proximity to a cliff edge or in relation to a field boundary.
Amendment A326, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would have the effect of applying this section where the change is likely to occur within the next 10 years. It is clear that Natural England will have to give detailed consideration to such areas, but there is a problem in setting a time limit. Without being a scientist, it is perfectly possible to see that a section of coastal pathway is subject to significant erosion, but it is generally more difficult to determine when the erosion may take place. Is it one year, 10, 20 or 50 years? While I understand exactly where the noble Lord is coming from, that is why we are rather resistant to putting a time limit into primary legislation. It would fetter the flexibility of Natural England in that regard.
Amendments A328A, A329 and A330 deal with matters where an area is or may be subject to significant coastal erosion or encroachment by the sea, or to any significant physical change due to other geomorphological processes in relation to which the Environment Agency has functions. The amendments would remove the reference to the agency's functions where the agency must be consulted. Let me make it clear that if the agency has no relevant functions, it would be unable to give any advice as a statutory body. If the amendments were accepted, Natural England would also have to consult with regard to physical change as a result of actions by public bodies.
The relevant functions of the Environment Agency that we have in mind are these. The agency has specific functions in relation to flood risk and flood defence management, which are relevant to new Section 55B(6)(a) and set out in the Water Resources Act 1991 and the Environment Act 1995. In relation to new Section 55B(6)(b) the functions referred to are those in the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003, the Water Resources Act 1991 and the water framework directive itself. The agency, as the flood risk management authority, needs to be aware of areas on the coastal access route which are at risk of encroachment by the sea and from coastal erosion. As the competent authority for the water framework directive, it needs to be aware of risks to surface water and ground water bodies from physical change due to other geomorphological processes. That is why it is relevant that the Environment Agency should have functions and must be consulted.
The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, asked about consultation and a review of the route. The normal process for consultation is by proposals made in Natural England's report. Consultations take place on a variation of the proposals just as they would for the initial route. I hope therefore that I can reassure him on the general point about consultation.
New Section 55B deals with the rollback mechanism, which is appropriate for natural changes that cannot be predicted. The management of coastal erosion, flood defences and actions taken by public bodies in relation to these will be very important factors which Natural England will have to take into account when designating the route. In some cases, Natural England may indicate that the route will be reviewed when planned management measures take place. I can reassure noble Lords that the Environment Agency will be a key player in all this, and the Bill already requires Natural England in new Section 55D to consult the agency before preparing a report in relation to any interests in flood defence, in the management of the effects of coastal erosion, or in encroachment by the sea. It must also consult the agency before giving a direction for a temporary diversion in certain circumstances.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, spoke to Amendment A326A which she described as probing in nature. I ought to say that subsection (4) provides clarity to subsection (2) by saying that Natural England may describe the route by reference to a cliff edge or a field boundary,
"as that cliff edge or field boundary exists from time to time".
This means that as the cliff or field boundary changes over time, so does the route. That is why we think it is a useful definition. But the point she made is that the path can roll back ever further, with the risk that it ends up going through developed land. I refer the noble Baroness to the draft scheme from Natural England, particularly to section 4.9 which gives a lot of useful examples. There will be check-up points where the path runs up to developed land. It will then stop rolling back and be routed behind the developed land. We understand the point raised by the noble Baroness, but there is enough flexibility in the way the scheme is to be taken forward, although clearly we are talking about a draft version that we have had the benefit of seeing. I will make sure that my officials pass on the contents of this debate to ensure that in the final scheme, which will have to be laid before Parliament, we have made sure that the matter has been taken into account.
I thank the Minister for his response. As he knows, along the coastlines particularly of Norfolk and north Suffolk, caravan parks and holiday chalets are sited right up to the cliff edge. At the moment, the footpath does not necessarily pass in front of these structures, although in some cases it may do so. If there is a rollback, will the newly designed path still go behind the caravans, thus benefiting those using them as holiday homes or even just as visitors, or will the route itself take precedence over what for many is very much a commercial entity which could be affected if the route is a public path?
I do not think I can give the noble Baroness a definitive answer because it would be part of the work that has to be taken forward. I have already referred to section 4.9 of the draft scheme, which I believe gives sufficient flexibility. However, one of the issues presumably for the owners of caravan sites is that if it is perceived that there is a risk of erosion and rollback might embrace the caravan site, one must ponder the viability of the site as a whole. I think that we have the right provisions in place to take a common-sense approach to this, and I will certainly make sure that these matters are considered as we take forward the actual scheme. Rollback is sensible because it allows for flexibility, but it can also come up against viable commercial operations. We have to make sure that this works for everybody as much as we can, and I think we have the flexibility to do that.
Amendment A358DA, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raised the question of the relationship between CROW and rights of way. It is a very important point. Although his amendment would ultimately mean that the route could not follow an existing right of way, it is a probing amendment, so he is not actually seeking that. It is intended to use existing public rights of way, where appropriate. My understanding is that he is asking what happens to rollback where the route is along a right of way. The route will roll back and then access will be provided under the CROW right of access. I have an extensive note on these matters. Would he be happy for me to write to him on it? It is an important point and there are situations where you have a right of way but the margin outwith the right of way is covered by CROW, so it is as complex area. I am happy to circulate a full note on the matter.
I would be grateful if the Minister did that. It is complicated and I still do not quite understand how it will work. If there is a right of way and no access land, because it is not appropriate for there to be any marginal land, how does the coastal margin associated with it then roll back? It is a technical question and there will be parts of the coast where that happens. I am reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that there are plenty of places where there is a right of way along a cliff top which has long since disappeared and roll back has occurred in an informal way. The edge of the field has rolled back because the farmer does not want to drive his tractor over the cliff edge and the right of way is through empty air. You cannot use it, but there is still a coastal path there.
In the circumstances of the coastal access path, my understanding is that you roll back and then you are relying on CROW rather than the right of way access.
I look forward to reading this long, complicated, technical letter. My only other point is that there will be some places where the coastal path has to divert inland round developed land which is falling into the sea. If the rollback is getting to developed land, some of that developed land will be falling into the sea anyway. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A326 withdrawn.
Amendments A326A to A330 not moved.
Moved by Lord Greaves
A331: Clause 292, page 178, line 32, leave out "may" and insert "shall, where appropriate,"
I will also speak to Amendments A333 to A336. All the amendments in this group deal with alternative routes where, for different reasons, the usual route is not usable or is banned from being used and there has to be an alternative route provided, which in most cases will obviously be further inland.
Amendment A331 deals with proposed new Section 55C, which is about alternative routes. Subsection (2) states:
"The report may include, in relation to the route ('the ordinary route') or any part of it, a proposal under subsection (3) or (4)".
This is a proposal for an alternative route which is to operate as a diversion. Amendment A331 says that, where there is a blockage of the route for whatever reason, there has to be an alternative route. The Bill says that it "may" include proposals for an alternative route. The amendment says that that must be the case where appropriate. It may be semantics or it may be an important point.
Amendment A333 probes the question of proposals for an alternative route under proposed new Section 55C(3),
"which is to operate as a diversion from the ordinary route, or part of it, during one or both of the following—
(a) any specified period (or periods), and
The second part of that is fairly clear and obvious but the first part is not. "Any specified period or periods" is a very general and vague phrase. The purpose of the amendment is to probe what it means. It is linked to Amendment A336, which takes out subsection (5), again for the purpose of probing it to understand what it means. It says:
"In subsection 3(a) 'specified' means—
(a)specified in, or determined in accordance with, the proposal, or
(b) determined in accordance with the proposal by—
(i) a person specified in a proposal or
(ii) a person determined in accordance with the proposal, details of whom are notified to Natural England in accordance with the proposal".
This is getting very close to being legislative gobbledegook. It took me a very long time to understand it, and I am not sure that I do now. The basic question underlying all this is: what kind of circumstances may apply where subsection (3)(a) closures may be brought into effect?
Amendment A334 is intended specifically to bring in the question of ferries and to require an alternative route to be provided when ferries are not operating. At the moment the coastal path can be defined as including a journey by ferry. It specifically says it is a journey on foot, except where there is a ferry. As we have discussed, there are seasonal ferries, ferries which operate once or twice a day, ferries which operate every half hour, ferries which do not operate on Sundays, et cetera. This amendment would require an alternative route to be provided if the journey was blocked because a ferry was not operating for any substantial or reasonable period of time.
Amendment A335 is about the provisions in proposed new Section 55C(4), which are optional alternatives. The subsection states:
"(4) A proposal under this subsection is a proposal for an alternative route which is to operate as an optional alternative to the ordinary route, or part, during any period for which the ordinary route, or part, might reasonably be regarded as unsuitable for use by reason of—
(b) the action of the tide,
(c) coastal erosion or encroachment by the sea, or
(d) the effect of any other geomorphological process".
I am glad to see that geomorphology appears again.
This is to probe what is meant by,
"optional alternative to the ordinary route".
Are there optional alternatives at any time? Is there an alternative for people who do not want to go across land which might be liable to be flooded, even if it was not the flooding season, or for people who do not want to be caught by the tide, even if it is low tide and they could get across?
What is an optional alternative? Is it an option that exists all the time, or does it exist only when either flooding is taking place, the tide is in or it is a particularly high tide, or there is coastal erosion or encroachment by the sea—I am not sure that coastal erosion should be here; that should be a permanent alternative, but never mind—or the effect of any other geomorphological process? I am not sure what such a process might be; I suppose it might be a landslide, if the route goes below cliffs that are liable to that kind of process. Is it a permanent option that exists all the time and the person walking along the coast decides whether or not to exercise it, or is the option decided by someone else who says, "Ey up, the tide's in. Let's put a sign up sending people around a different way"? This is quite important. In practice, if there is an optional route, it ought to be there all the time and people can then exercise their judgment about whether to go along the potentially dangerous route or to take the safe one. I beg to move.
This is another set of amendments regarding possible changes in routes and the issues surrounding the problems posed by changes such as erosion. I agree with Amendment A331 of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves; it is important for the sake of clarity and transparency that proposals for changes under subsections (3) and (4) are included in the report. Further amendments make the alternative routes much more flexible, both by removing the definition of "specified periods" and by allowing the alternative route to be a generic optional route, not subject to use in conditions of, for example, flooding or coastal erosion.
Proposed new Section 55C(4) lists reasons for unsuitability for use of the ordinary route:
"flooding ... the action of the tide ... coastal erosion or encroachment by the sea ... the effect of any other geomorphological process".
I know that the Minister hates lists, but here he has one. He hates them because people add to them, and I am not going to disappoint him here. There are other appropriate reasons why one may need a different route, such as the nesting season. Maybe you do not want people walking through a site then. In Norfolk, for instance, where I come from, nesting sites for terns are cordoned off so that people cannot go through them during that season.
Another reason might be that there is a military live-firing range. I do not know what the proposals are for ranges by the sea. It may be that, when the military are not using them, the coast next to the seashore can be used. And then, of course, there is shooting. What plans does the Minister have to ensure that the public are well informed when alternative routes must be used?
My noble friend went rather rapidly over the distinction between flooding, the tide and erosion or encroachment. Like him, I had a problem with the term "optional". I can see that it would be an "option" not to get your feet wet, but is it really a sensible option to fall into the void created by erosion? The clause seems to be dealing with very different circumstances but describing the remedy in the same way, which is not entirely appropriate.
I am grateful to noble Lords for the points they have raised on this interesting part of the Bill. In general, the clause is a useful addition; it provides some flexibility for the circumstances described in this part of the Bill. It is an example of how the Bill seeks to anticipate circumstances that might arise and not then cause a halt to the coastal route, so as a general point this is a sensible proposal.
Noble Lords have raised a number of interesting questions and examples. They question whether the Bill as it is drafted really meets those circumstances, and I will look at these matters between Committee and Report to ensure that I am satisfied that it does. A number of interesting points have been made here.
Amendment A331 would change the wording so that instead of saying that Natural England may provide for an alternative route, it would say that Natural England must, where appropriate, include such a proposal. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, suggested that he might be being somewhat overprescriptive, and I think he is. The important point is that Natural England has the ability to propose alternative routes where it considers that it is appropriate to do so, which is implied by the use of the word "may".
I realise that if the noble Lord had proposed "must" and not "where appropriate", my argument against him would be stronger; if that were the case, Natural England would have to consider on every stretch of the route whether an alternative route was appropriate and where it should go. By the use of the phrase "where appropriate" he has qualified the use of the word "must", but on the other hand I have no reason to think that the use of the word "may" would inhibit Natural England from taking a sensible and proportionate approach to this.
We then have a series of amendments, A333 to A336, the effect of which would be that an alternative route could be provided only when an exclusion or restriction of access under Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 was in force or in an estuary when a ferry was not working. My problem with that is that the amendments would essentially remove Natural England's ability to specify any other period during which an alternative route may operate and remove the four situations that are listed in the Bill where an optional alternative route might be put in place when a route is unsuitable for use—for instance, for flooding, the action of the tide, coastal erosion or encroachment of the sea or the effect of any other geomorphological process.
The noble Lord posed the question: if an alternative route is prescribed, what are the options for people to use it? That is not how we see it; we see the alternative route being used only when the particular conditions set out in subsection (4)(a) to (d) apply. However, the person exercising their right can also exercise their judgment about whether those conditions apply. I am not suggesting that we are going to have notices up and down the country saying at which moment an alternative route may apply or not. We have to have some flexibility with regard to that.
There are other issues listed in this clause that noble Lords have raised. On the question of the Ministry of Defence, MoD ranges are usually military by-lawed land, a category of excepted land, so the route would not go through MoD sites in the first place. He then raised the point that they might be using the firing range only at certain times of the year. The MoD might provide permissive access if the ranges are not in use and can be made safe for the public. It is probably best to leave it to the discretion of the MoD rather than use the provisions here. This provides a useful flexibility. I have no reason to believe that Natural England will not use it sensibly. That is why I would like to retain the word "may". It has been an interesting debate and between now and Report I will look at some of the instances noble Lords have raised to make sure that they are covered by the current wording.
Will the Minister consider further the question I raised about the specified period or periods and this extraordinarily convoluted new Section 55C(5) which says what "specified" means. Perhaps he could write and explain this to us. I am not particularly concerned about knowing exactly what it means in a grammatical sense as it seems to mean people specified or appointed in lots of different ways. I am interested to know, however, what kind of things it refers to. I was not trying to take it out but probing what kind of circumstances are in the minds of the people who wrote this legislation, of the Minister, of Natural England or of anybody else who was involved in it. It is not clear and I cannot think of any sensible circumstances, but that may be because I do not understand it. Can the Minister set out some circumstances in which it might be used?
I will do my best. If you look at the wording of new Section 55C—I know it has its moments, I accept that—the critical part is new subsection (4), which sets out the conditions in which the ordinary route or path might be regarded as unsuitable. There may be circumstances in which the unsuitability relates to a period of time. New Section 55C(3) is needed to allow Natural England to use that specification. That would be my answer to the noble Lord, but I am happy to dig deep to give some examples if we can find them.
I am grateful to the Minister. I should also have said that I am grateful to the Minister for saying he would look at the totality of this debate and the points that have been raised. The Minister has now raised the interesting question as to whether new subsection (3) and new subsection (4) may operate together because new subsection (5) refers only to new subsection (3) and not to new subsection (4). That also relates to a question that the Minister may want to look at and write to us about. Why is the wording of new subsection (3) different from the wording of new subsection (4)? New subsection (3) refers to,
"an alternative route which is to operate as a diversion from the ordinary route".
I understand that as it goes on to talk about a diversion for particular periods. There would have to be notices and regulations and so on. Then new subsection (4) refers to,
"an alternative route which is to operate as an optional alternative to the ordinary route".
Again, I do not think the Minister has answered the question whether it will be an option at any time. If it is not supposed to be an option at any time, how will it be policed? There does not seem to be any sense to having rules which say you can come along this path, which may well become a well-trodden and clear path, but you are not supposed to go there if instead you can go along the beach if the tide is not in. If it is an optional path surely it should be an optional path at all times, otherwise it does not make sense. I do not think it can be policed. If it cannot even be informally policed by peer pressure there is no sense in it.
I thought I was clear on this when the Minister said that interesting points had been raised and that he would take it away for consideration. He then said that the four conditions were flooding, tide, erosion and geomorphological processes. This seemed to suggest that those were the four things. When I spoke earlier I mentioned other things such as alternative paths to avoid nesting sites during specific periods. The Minister mentioned my point about the MoD but I also mentioned shooting. I read or heard somewhere that it was possible to have an alternative site if there was a party of people shooting. I should like clarification on that.
To add to the Minister's considerations, I wonder whether this clause could be looked at alongside new Section 55B because new Section 55C covers such a variety of things which we are describing in some cases as optional alternatives but in other cases as replacements, which would come more suitably in new Section 55B rather than in new Section 55C. This may be where some of the confusion and certainly my confusion arises.
The way I read it as an amateur from the Back Benches is that new subsection (4) spoke for itself—those were the reasons for there being an alternative route. My noble friend was right to touch on the breeding season but it could be the burning of heather or any other reason. I had assumed that that applied to new subsection (3) and the definition applied to new subsection (4) but if I am not right I should like to have it clarified.
The substantive part of this clause is new subsection (4), which sets out the circumstances. Noble Lords have raised other circumstances. I thought I had answered the question in relation to MoD land where I said it would be treated as excepted land but the MoD might then decide to open up firing ranges if it was appropriate and safe to do so. Other examples have been given such as the question of nesting. These matters will be dealt with as the plans for the coastal path are developed. That may be a factor in deciding where the route goes in the first place. I have said, however, that I will look at these examples to make sure that we are covered in relation to alternative routes.
I know the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is critical of the wording but I do not see a conflict between new subsections (3), (4) and (5). I am clear that new subsection (5) helps to define what is meant by a specified period. New subsection (3) relates to the circumstances under new subsection (4) where it is appropriate that there is a diversion and the diversion may operate at specified periods. On the question of whether the alternative route should always be specified as being available at the same time as the main route, I think that is too inflexible. Surely there has to be flexibility. I can see that there might be circumstances where there would be no problem at all about the alternative route also being used but there might be circumstances where that was not appropriate. I understand that there is also the issue of policing. We need to be pragmatic. This is a sensible provision which we want to work in a flexible way but, as I have said, I will look into this matter and make sure that we are covered for the circumstances noble Lords have raised.
I am grateful for those further assurances from the Minister, and I add two points. He is now saying that proposed new subsection (3) qualifies proposed new subsection (4). That is not how I had read or understood them; they refer to different circumstances. Proposed new subsection (3) is not a means of qualifying proposed new subsection (4). This needs looking at again.
As the Minister just said, we want something that is understandable and will work. I take the view, perhaps slightly arrogantly, that if I cannot understand it then lots of other people will not be able to understand it. Perhaps I am thicker than most, but I do not usually encounter that. We must get it clear.
Secondly, if proposed new subsections (3) and (4) are separate, why is there different wording? There must be some reason for it. That is at the heart of it. Having said that—and we will have further discussions about this—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A331 withdrawn.
Amendments A332 to A336D not moved.
Moved by Lord Greaves
A337: Clause 292, page 179, line 31, leave out from beginning to end of line 9 on page 180
I also speak to Amendment A341, which is the substantive amendment in this group. I seek to set out a clear and comprehensive consultation process during the preparation of proposal reports, which Natural England is responsible for producing for each section of the coast.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, at the beginning of our proceedings this afternoon when he was talking about the importance of local authority involvement, is at the heart of this. It is very important indeed that the schemes are put together in a clear, open, transparent and consultative way, that representations are properly considered in a clear, open and transparent way, and that, as far as possible, the proposals for each section of the coast are made on the basis of consensus, or as much local consensus from all interests as possible. My amendment would insert a new Section 55DA into the 1949 Act, which would put a duty on the Secretary of State to issue regulations setting that process out. I have incorporated those proposals that are already in the Bill, to make it clearer, more comprehensive and much more satisfactory—to make it absolutely certain that what needs to be done is done.
The regulations will require Natural England to advertise that they are preparing a coastal access report for a section of coast. They will have to consult with each local authority and national park authority, persons with a relevant interest in the land, each local access forum, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, the Environment Agency,
"representatives of relevant recreational users and conservation interests"— important third-party interests—and other persons that the Secretary of State thinks appropriate. Natural England will be under a duty to,
"consider and have regard to all representations made as a result of advertisement", and consultation on this. When it produces its draft report, it will have to advertise its publication, consult the persons listed—as I have already read out—on the draft report and,
"have regard to all representations made as a result of advertisement and consultation".
It states that Natural England may then amend and modify the report as a result of those representations.
If I have read its reports and draft scheme correctly, this would place in the Bill what Natural England is probably going to do anyway. However, as I have said before, it is such an important thing that it ought to be in the Bill so that it cannot be changed in the future. I beg to move.
We were intending to discuss the consultation process in the next group. Noting the support that the amendments in this group give to local democracy, I question the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on proposed new subsection (4) and the listing of what "local authority" means. Unitary authorities and metropolitan boroughs also adjacent to the coast should really be listed there. I am not sure whether the grouping as listed covers all local authorities that are likely to be affected, or that want and need consultation.
I can answer that before the Minister replies: it does. This is the normal list that appears in local government legislation. Unitary authorities are all either counties or districts, and metropolitan districts are districts, so this covers them all.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for that clarification. Clause 292 amends Part IV of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 to require Natural England to consult with various relevant bodies before drawing up a report, in addition to the persons already included in Section 51(4) of the 1949 Act. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, proposes to remove the current list and replace it with a new list. He has presented his arguments for that.
During the passage of this Bill, the Government have made their views on lists pretty clear. However, in Part 9 of the Bill it is important that we update the list included in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, but that does not mean that we should extend it to include all the organisations which might need to be consulted. We need to retain some degree of flexibility. The noble Lord's proposal, about which he is quite frank, is to put his list in the Bill. However, we should not be including consultees for definitive maps on rights of way in this legislation. It is entirely different from the 1949 legislation.
Amendment A341 would insert a new section setting out a number of requirements on Natural England at the stage of their consultation during the preparation of their coastal access report. The amendment is too prescriptive and goes too far. The process for consultation in new Section 55D was drawn up to reflect what is already in Section 51 of the 1949 Act, and that places sufficient requirements on Natural England to consult appropriately. Indeed, Natural England's scheme, published in December 2008 and which we have made available to noble Lords, already builds in such a draft report stage. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was generous enough to say that he thought that Natural England would probably do what he was prescribing. He is right, but he wants it in the Bill and I am not convinced that that degree of prescription is necessary.
Natural England has already said that it will publish its draft proposals on the internet. It will invite all relevant interests to comment on them. It will allow a 12-week period for people to view the proposals and submit comments on the report. Natural England is fulfilling the spirit of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but his amendment would put in the Bill a prescription that is a step too far because of its rigidity and the limitations that it puts on Natural England, which will work very much along the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has suggested. I hope, therefore, that he will withdraw his amendment.
I shall certainly do that in a minute. Can the Minister answer a couple of questions? First, which of the organisations listed here does the Minister think should not be consulted? This is not really a list, but a process that involves a list. Secondly, which of the stages in the consultation process that I have put forward does the Minister think should not take place?
The noble Lord presents those questions against a context in which he wants to rewrite this section of the Bill. I understand why he wants to do so. I do not say that his list does not have a large degree of accuracy to it, but the problem with being prescriptive about those terms is that it reduces flexibility. It binds Natural England against what is in the Bill in circumstances where we are talking about process. Natural England has given all evidence that it follows exactly the concepts suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, by guaranteeing to consult. We have represented those parts that we must take account of according to the 1949 Act.
The noble Lord will appreciate that the problem with lists is that they are exhaustive today and very far from being exhaustive and complete five years from now. The problem, then, is that this will be in primary legislation. The noble Lord should surely accept that when we discuss an issue of process there has to be some element of flexibility to it. That is why I ask him to think again about how prescriptive this particular part of the Bill should be and to reconsider his amendment.
The Minister convinces me that the amendment is right. If he reads the list carefully, he will find that it does not in any way prevent future flexibility; it is specifically written in general and generic terms so that exactly the people who need to be on the list can be put on it in the future. The decision will be the Secretary of State's. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A337 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.35 pm.