Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ninth Report

1  Introduction

1.  The Government published its Draft Marine Bill on 3 April 2008.[1] Most of the draft Bill concerns the introduction of a new framework for the seas based on marine spatial planning, but Part 9 of the Bill contains proposals to give people access on foot to land all around the English coast.

2.  The Government announced in July 2007 that the proposals for a Marine Bill were being considered for publication in draft and that this could be expected in early 2008. We believe that scrutiny of proposals for legislation is a core function of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and the Committee agreed to examine the draft bill when it appeared. We were strengthened in our view by the fact that we had looked at the case for a Marine Bill in 2003-04.[2] In early 2008 there were suggestions that a Joint Committee of both Houses would be set up to examine the draft bill, as had happened in 2007 with the Draft Climate Change Bill.

3.  When the Bill was published in April it became clear that a Joint Committee would be set up. In order to avoid duplicating its work, we decided to examine a discrete part of the draft Bill, a part which was not in the White Paper consulted on in 2007: the coastal access provisions. Although the Joint Committee has taken some evidence on these provisions, it has concentrated on the rest of the proposals.

4.  We remain dissatisfied, though, about the uncertainty that surrounds the process of pre-legislative scrutiny as was exemplified by this case. Given the amount of time and effort that goes into the drafting of bills, we are surprised at the vague and uncommunicative way in which the Government deals with the House in preparing for such scrutiny, especially as pre-legislative scrutiny is one of the principal reasons for publishing a draft bill. In principle, it should be a function of the departmental select committee responsible for the Department sponsoring the draft bill. If that committee is unable or unwilling to perform the task, then a joint committee could be necessary. In this case, however, the Committee wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in November 2007 and January 2008 to tell him that we wished to undertake the role. It is for the House to decide how it conducts pre-legislative scrutiny, not for the Government to determine. When the Government is preparing draft bills in the future, it should inform the Liaison Committee which should recommend, in consultation with the relevant departmental select committee, how pre-legislative scrutiny should be conducted.

5.  On 24 April 2008 we issued an invitation for people and organisations to send us their views on the coastal access provisions in the draft Bill. We asked for views on the following specific areas:

  • The Government's vision for coastal access, and the extent to which the draft Bill provides for it;
  • Whether new legislation is the best or most cost-effective means of providing increased access to the coast;
  • The case for exceptions to, and deviations from, a route giving continuous access to the coast itself;
  • Whether the draft Bill strikes the right balance between the rights of access and the rights of owners and occupiers, and whether there should be compensation in any circumstances for the creation of coastal access rights;
  • The proposals for coastal access in estuaries;
  • What classes of land should be excepted from access rights;
  • The proposed arrangements for limiting liability; and
  • Whether there should be access rights for other users such as cyclists or horse riders.

6.  We received 74 written memoranda. We had an informal private briefing from Natural England (the body which will be responsible for drawing up the proposals for access to the coast), and took oral evidence from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Natural England, and a number of organisations with an interest in the draft Bill or experience of the access issues involved. We also undertook a visit to the north Essex coast near Walton-on-the-Naze in order to see at first hand specific examples of some of the complex issues raised by the Government's proposals. We are very grateful to all those who took the trouble to help us with our inquiry.

7.  As well as pre-legislative scrutiny by Parliament, the proposals in the Bill have been undergoing a public consultation process. Defra asked for comments by 26 June 2008.

1   Draft Marine Bill, Cm 7351, April 2008  Back

2   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2003-04, Marine Environment, HC 76 Back

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