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26 Oct 2009 : Column 47

(b) may, unless (or except to the extent that) the agreement provides for this paragraph not to apply, authorise a committee, sub-committee, member, officer or employee of the body to perform the function on its behalf.

(5) Subject to subsection (4)(b), an eligible body which is authorised under an agreement to perform a function may not authorise any other body or person to perform that function.

(6) Section 177 (exemption from liability) applies in relation to any function which an eligible body is authorised under an agreement to perform as if the reference to an IFC authority were a reference to the eligible body.'.- ( Huw Irranca-Davies .)

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 6

Supplementary provisions with respect to agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]

'(1) An agreement under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies], and any approval given by the Secretary of State under that section, must be in writing.

(2) An IFC authority which has entered into an agreement with an eligible body must arrange for a copy of the agreement to be published in a way that the IFC authority thinks is suitable for bringing it to the attention of persons likely to be affected by it.

(3) No power of a Minister of the Crown under any enactment to give directions to a statutory body extends to giving a direction-

(a) requiring it to enter into an agreement under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies];

(b) prohibiting it from entering into such an agreement;

(c) requiring it to include, or prohibiting it from including, particular terms in such an agreement;

(d) requiring it to negotiate, or prohibiting it from negotiating, a variation or termination of such an agreement.

(4) Schedule 15 to the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 (c. 40) (restrictions on disclosure of information) applies in relation to an authorisation by an IFC authority or an eligible body under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies] or [Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers] of this Act as it applies in relation to an authorisation under section 69 of that Act by an office-holder.'.- ( Huw Irranca-Davies .)

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 160

Byelaws: procedure

Amendment made: 6, page 108, line 29, at end insert-

'( ) Regulations under this section may make different provision for cases where an IFC authority has entered into an agreement under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies] authorising a body to perform any of the authority's functions relating to byelaws.'.- ( Huw Irranca-Davies .)

Clause 166

Powers of IFC officers

Amendment made: 7, page 110, line 22, leave out 'by the authority for the district' and insert

'under section 155 for the district (or having effect as if so made)'.- ( Huw Irranca-Davies .)
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Clause 181

Interpretation of this Chapter

Amendment made: 8, page 115, line 9, at end insert-

'"eligible body" has the meaning given by section [Eligible bodies];'.- ( Huw Irranca-Davies .)

Clause 291

The coastal access duty

Mr. Benyon: I beg to move amendment 35, page 187, line 28, leave out 'is' and insert 'may be'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 32, in clause 292, page 189, line 5, leave out subsections (a) and (b) and insert-

'(a) holds a legal estate or has a legal interest in the land, or'.

Amendment 34, in clause 297, page 195, line 13, at end insert-

'(1) The Secretary of State must, by regulation, set out the way in which a person with a relevant interest in land may require Natural England to review a coastal access report. Reasons for review may include-

(a) proposed or actual changes in the use of land;

(b) review of existing directions or proposed new directions made under Chapter 2 or Part 1 of the CROW Act for the exclusion or restriction of the right of access.

(2) The regulations referred to in subsection (1) must set out the way in which a person with a relevant interest in land may make an objection under the procedure set out in Schedule 19 including objections against the refusal of Natural England to undertake a review, or to carry out the review within specified timescales, or to amend a coastal access report.'.

Amendment 33, page 197, line 49, leave out subsections (a) and (b) and insert-

'(a) holds a legal estate or has a legal interest in the land, or'.

Amendment 40, page 200, line 32, at end insert-

'(10) The Secretary of State shall within 2 years from the commencement of this section lay before Parliament a report which shall appraise the progress made in establishing long distance coastal routes in England with particular regard to-

(a) the voluntary inclusion of parkland;

(b) the inclusion of the Isle of Wight;

(c) the addition of further islands reachable by ferry;

(d) the use of seasonal ferries as part of the coastal path.

(11) In the report required in (10) The Secretary of State shall append proposals to remedy shortcomings in the establishment of coastal routes that are apparent to him as a result of its presentation.'.

Amendment 37, page 202, line 26, leave out Clause 300.

Mr. Benyon: We move on to part 9 of the Bill, on coastal access. Many Members might feel, like me, that that part of the Bill has been bolted on to 300 clauses of very important marine Bill. That has risked diverting some of our energies and intentions away from an important part of the Bill. We all want to see more access to our countryside in all its forms: whether this was the right part of the Bill to do that is questionable,
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but we are where we are. It is most important that we be up front with the British public about what we can achieve.

Charles Clover, who has already been mentioned, wrote in yesterday's The Sunday Times that

According to Natural England's own figures, therefore, we are talking about 8 per cent.

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): According to another source, Natural England has estimated that

not 16 per cent.

Mr. Benyon: We could take up a lot of time arguing about maths. Charles Clover goes on to say that a place in his locality in Essex, Mistley quay, will not benefit from access as a result of the Bill. We need to be upfront about what will actually be provided, and how we can facilitate such provision.

Amendment 35 deals with coastal margin, or spreading room. As has been made clear throughout our debates on the Bill, it will be impossible to provide spreading room-or coastal margin-along the entirety of the coastal route. Safety, privacy and biosecurity have all been cited as real and legitimate reasons for a limitation being placed on it. Our amendment seeks to change the wording of clause 291 to reflect the reality of spreading room. If it is not to be placed along the entirety of the coastal route-as we have been reassured by Natural England and the Minister that it will not-the wording of the Bill should reflect that.

The issue of coastal margin in the Bill has raised concerns around the country, not least because there will be many areas of exceptions and restrictions. The concept of complete access along a coastal margin will simply not be achievable. The Bill should be amended to reflect reality so that the public are not misled, as they may have been by the perception that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 would create a universal right to roam.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): I was heavily involved with the Bill that became the CROW Act. It gave no impression of a universal right to roam. Those of us who use and welcome our new right are very clear about the fact that there is no universal right, and the people who exercise that right do so in a very responsible way.

Mr. Benyon: I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman's point. What I am saying is certainly not a criticism of him or of anyone else who was involved in that Bill, but I assure him that many people immediately assumed that there was some new right enabling them to go anywhere, although we all know that that was not the case. Perhaps we can blame elements of the press for the way in which they reported what was happening. I am sorry if what was intended to be a fairly benign comment has excited a few people-

Martin Salter rose-

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Mr. Benyon: My friend and neighbour the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) looks very excited.

Martin Salter: I thank my friend and neighbour for giving way. I am not excited, and I am always benign to him. Does he accept that the misinformation on the CROW Act came not from the people who were promoting it but from the Countryside Alliance and other interests, who deliberately set out to misrepresent what was in the Bill and the intention behind the campaign? I think he knows that that is the case.

Mr. Benyon: I was not in the House at the time. May we draw a line under this argument? I did not intend to create such excitement-although, during what could have been a fairly dry afternoon, it has proved to be an exciting diversion. I should be happy to continue the conversation with the hon. Gentleman on the river bank.

The concept that all land adjacent to, and seaward of, the line of the route should be included as coastal margin is, as we know, unrealistic. While there is an intention to draw the route as close to the sea as possible, there will be circumstances in which that does not happen. In those circumstances, land types that are clearly not coastal-that are not foreshore or adjacent cliff, bank, dune or flat-should not be included as coastal margin. The Bill should properly reflect the lack of continuity of margin that will inevitably be the case because of physical features on the ground. We believe that a proper distinction needs to be drawn between the route itself and associated spreading room.

The current Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation on the definitions of coastal land shows that there is an inconsistency of approach in its proposals. There is a failure to make a proper distinction between the route and spreading room, such as the proposed inclusion of land within 20 metres of a dwelling not simply to enable the route to pass over it where there is no practical alternative, but with the possibility of that land being designated as spreading room.

There is also still considerable concern among some groups over mapping of spreading room. The Minister has given the reassurance that he believes that Natural England should be sensitive to requests for maps. Is he willing to give a reassurance on the Floor of the House, however, as that would be very helpful? Given that it has been generally accepted by the Government that words will not always be sufficient to describe the coastal margin associated with the new coastal trail, will the Minister confirm that where a land occupier or landowner has made a reasonable request for the provision of a map for clarity, Natural England will be sympathetic in meeting such requests?

Amendments 32 and 33 concern the definition of an interest in the land. We believe that coastal access must be based upon local consensus where possible, and be developed at local level in order to ensure that this right of access takes account of the pre-existing rights of farmers, home owners, businesses, wildfowling clubs and other sporting interests, as well as the needs of conservation and public safety. This proposal follows concerns that we raised in Committee over the treatment of those with certain legal interests in land, such as those with sporting rights, that we felt were absent from the Bill.

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I acknowledge that the Government have made some movement in this area, and have reinstated the right of appeal, under the CROW Act, where restrictions or exclusions are proposed. It has also been said that the representations made by holders of sporting interests, but not holders of other legal interests such as mineral rights, will be passed on fully to the Secretary of State rather than being summarised. There remains, however, a feeling among certain groups that Government concessions do not amount to equal rights. The Bill still does not give equal treatment to all those people who have a legal interest in the land, thereby creating a two-tier system among those with different legal interests. For example, the Bill includes those with grazing licences. That right of occupation could be for a very small amount of annual rent compared with, let us say, sporting rights, which could be of considerably greater value and require, as in the case of wildfowling clubs, huge amounts of conservation investment in both money and effort over many years.

The Bill currently provides that occupiers and owners will be taken into account both at the walking the course phase and when considering whether a fair balance has been struck between the interests of the owner or occupier and the interests of the public who may wish to walk a coastal route. However, there are some legal interests that do not have the same rights. In particular, holders of sporting and mineral rights will not be treated in the same way as owners and occupiers.

Particular concern arises in respect of the setting of the route and margin. If Natural England is not required to take into account some legal interests, such as mineral or sporting rights, it could set the route in a way that seriously impinges on those rights. Furthermore, it may result in the total loss of use of such rights without its being called to account, as there is no obligation on Natural England to take account of those interests in determining whether a fair balance has been reached. Throughout Committee stage, we agreed that the Bill requires us to take a great leap of faith in organisations such as Natural England. All my discussions with it have made me conscious that it is up to the task and is looking at this issue in entirely the right way, but we really do need some assurance-I hope, in the Bill.

5 pm

Our amendment seeks to redress this imbalance by ensuring that the definitions of interest in the land include all those with a legal estate or interest in the land, as is the case under the CROW Act. We recognise attempts by the Minister to negotiate a route through this issue at his summit last month, and that he was not helped by a divergence of opinion among some of the groups present. He may have found a way forward and I am happy to support it, but I do want reassurances on this point.

Amendment 34 concerns the need for changes to the route to reflect a change of use of the land in question where it is affected by the route of the path or spreading room. The Government have consistently promised that the coastal access route will be flexible and responsive to changing circumstances; however, nothing in the Bill ensures that. How is Natural England to know that a development has been approved, and that it must alter
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its coastal access report as a result of that development affecting the coastal access route? How does the developer notify Natural England and ensure that the coastal access report is up to date and takes account of the changes that have been approved? The amendment would ensure that those with an interest in the land have the right to request changes to coastal access in future where there is a change in use of the land. At the very least, we need an assurance from the Minister that such a mechanism will be included explicitly within Natural England's coastal access scheme. We also need an explicit assurance that guidance will be provided to local planning authorities confirming the flexible nature of the coastal access provisions.

Amendment 37 concerns liability issues. Although it is Natural England and the Secretary of State who will identify the coastal route and areas of spreading room, clause 300 removes all liability from Natural England and the Secretary of State for any failures that may occur in connection with its coastal access duty. It is surely wrong for Government to try to restrict liability in this way. The Secretary of State and Natural England are both charged under clause 291 with exercising the coastal access duty. That duty should be carried out with due regard to public safety. If liability is removed, as proposed, members of the public will be unable to find any redress from the Government or Natural England for failures in identifying a safe coastal access route. Retaining liability at some level, at least, will act as a reminder to Natural England and the Secretary of State to determine coastal access carefully and remain mindful of their responsibilities toward the public. It will provide a powerful check and balance in determining the precise location of any coastal access.

I am not in the business of creating vast new burdens on any Government agency or on Ministers themselves, but the question of liability does need a reasoned response. The Minister may be able to give me some reassurances or suggest an alternative solution to my amendment. In fact, it is unclear in the Bill exactly where liability will lie. It would be helpful to have some words from the Minister in this regard.

Martin Salter: I congratulate the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon)-his Front-Bench colleagues would do well to examine how he has approached this Bill and this thorny issue in particular-because the House has just heard an example of constructive opposition that will lead to effective change. On leaving this place, as I will shortly, it is nice to think that we have been the architects of effective change rather than just a handful of soundbites.

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