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I shared the concern of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, recreational angling interests and Members from all parts of the House that some of the coastal access provisions, as originally drafted, could have had unintended consequences. Surely part of what we are about when we scrutinise legislation is guarding against and avoiding those. Nobody in their right mind wants to drive a coastal access path through a piece of land if that would put the public at risk or inhibit the legitimate enjoyment and sport of wild fowlers, who for generations have enjoyed their sport on many of the marshlands and estuaries around our coasts. The recreational angling sector, although less affected, had concerns about coastal access paths going past places of
particular popularity with people who beach-cast. I am talking about guys who throw 4 or 5 ounces of lead some 200-odd yards from a beach, so it is not a good idea for a footpath to be immediately behind them-unless a member of the public wants to have a quick swim or possibly be seriously injured in some other way.
It was important that those sporting interests could be represented in the consultation mechanism in respect of the establishment of the path. Following some vigorous exchanges in Committee, which were based on amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Newbury and me-there was support from other hon. Members-the Minister kindly agreed to convene a summit on 7 September. I thank him for apprising us of the outcome, and I wish to read into the record what he has said in writing:
"I have therefore proposed that those with a sporting right (including holders of sporting tenancies), should be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State under Schedule 19 to the Bill, to ensure that their representations are given particular consideration by the Secretary of State...The effect of this would be that Natural England would have to take reasonable steps to give notice of a relevant coastal access report to those with sporting rights, and any representations which they made on the report would go in full to the Secretary of State".
People have criticised this as not so much a victory and not so much a significant policy change, but they are the same bunch who misrepresented the CROW Act and one would not be surprised to learn that they are usually a little late on these issues. The fact that sporting interests will have the ability to make representations right to the very top of the tree-they will have access to the top of the pile-is one of the reasons why the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Angling Trust have welcomed the improvement made, the assurances given by the Minister and the conclusions of the summit held on 7 September. As far as I am concerned, and as far as recreational shooters and anglers are concerned, this is a job well done. We do not see the need for this to be a point of contention, so notwithstanding the strong and pertinent remarks that he made, I urge the hon. Member for Newbury to recognise that there is little need for the House to divide on this issue.
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): I wish to say a few brief words from our Front Bench in support of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon). I did not serve on the Committee, so this is the first time that I have been able to comment on this part of the Bill. Like him, I think it is regrettable that this whole matter of coastal access was put into a very important Bill dealing with marine conservation. Many other complicated issues have thus been raised and the subject deserved a piece of legislation on its own; I am totally in favour of providing coastal access, but such an undertaking should have been dealt with in separate legislation. I am sure that both sides of the House would have welcomed that and would have facilitated the passage of such legislation.
Coastal access is desirable, but, harking back to the right-to-roam section of the CROW Act, once again-I do not want to excite the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) on this matter-most people want recreation in the countryside, on moorland and on the coast, but they want an improvement in our existing rights of way network. Footpaths and circular walks
can be easily created and farmers can have sensible diversions for footpaths on their land-that is what the majority of people in this country want. When the right-to-roam section of the CROW Act came in, it diverted an enormous amount of money from and effort by Natural England, or whatever it was called in those days, to create the open access areas.
I can talk with first-hand knowledge only about my own area, Northumberland. We have masses of open moorland near where I live. The fell outside the village has been walked on by local people and visitors for years, but it was not included in open access. Pieces of ground that no one really wants to walk on have now been included for open access, so all we get is a lot of money spent on new gateposts with new signs on them, and the walking experience and walking environment in the area are not improved. In a sense, I regret the diversion that the opening of coastal access will cause Natural England with its core responsibilities of opening access to the public and creating better rights of way and bridleway networks throughout the country.
I would like my hon. Friend's amendment to be accepted because I am aware that wildfowling clubs and those with other sporting interests are extremely worried that their interests could be overlooked. I appreciate what a lot of progress was made in Committee; nevertheless, the amendment would be better for those groups. We are talking about organisations, particularly wildfowling clubs, that invested tens of thousands-even hundreds of thousands-of pounds over the years in conservation efforts to develop safe and responsible wildfowling around the coast. If that could be prejudiced in any way by the creation of the coastal path, they would clearly be extremely worried. I hope that the Minister will once again reassure them.
Let me mention another case that was brought to my attention. In one area, small inshore fishing boats, which are hauled up off the foreshore, are launched some distance from the coast. There is no legal right to do that, only centuries of customs and practice. I was interested to note those concerns, and I hope that the Minister can explain that those people have nothing to worry about.
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman might be around later in the debate when, if we are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we might discuss the White Herring Fisheries Act 1771.
Mr. Atkinson: I was intrigued to see that an amendment to the White Herring Fisheries Act was coming up for debate. If one was in the habit of filibustering in the House, which we used to do, that would have been a marvellous subject to keep us engaged for several hours. I am quite sure that many hon. Members would wish to talk about that Act.
I hope that the Minister, if he will not accept the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, will give further reassurance to those who have wildfowling, sporting and other rights and interests that their interests will be looked after as the Bill becomes law.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab):
This is my first chance, too, to speak on this Bill as amended in Committee, because of my required attendance
at the Crown court in Sheffield for jury service when the Committee was sitting. This is my first opportunity to comment on the individual provisions.
The comments that have been made about the inclusion of coastal access in the Bill are unfortunate, because Natural England has been at the forefront of the campaign to ensure that these provisions are in the Bill. Secondly, one of the points of the Bill in its entirety is to ensure that everybody in this country understands that we have a collective responsibility for the marine environment. Surely one of the best ways of ensuring that people understand that is to make sure that there is reasonable access to the coast, and that people can start to enjoy, understand and appreciate the coastline. By doing that, we may also help to develop a sense of collective responsibility for the coastline and the marine environment.
Mr. Benyon: Does the hon. Lady agree that the vast majority of walkers who will want to visit a coastal path will not be the hardened types who want to do long treks round large areas of coastal Britain, but will want to go to a particular point, possibly by public transport, and walk part of the coast, possibly via a circular route, or possibly returning by the same route? We need to cater for the vast majority of walkers who will want to access coastal Britain like that, rather than being hidebound by the idea of a circular route as the ultimate aim of all that we are talking about.
Ms Angela C. Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but point out that it has been calculated that since the opening up of the long-distance path along the entire length of Hadrian's wall, there has been a 99 per cent. increase in the number of long-distance walkers using the path. The south-west coastal path has been estimated to generate at least £307 million annually for the regional economy, so I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's argument. There is a wide range of walkers using any path, whether inland or on the coast, but there will be a significant increase in long-distance walkers once the provisions have been enacted.
On amendment 35, I should like to focus attention on the importance of the provisions for establishing spreading room for certain sporting interests. We have today heard comments about sporting interests, which were entirely legitimate, but there are other sporting interests with an interest in coastal access. The British Mountaineering Council, for instance, is keen to establish that the natural physical boundaries that are recommended as the boundary of the landward side of the margins recommended are included in the margin, not seen as the outer boundary of that margin. That is extremely important for rock climbers and mountaineers because there are rock faces and cliff faces that face inwards-landwards-on our coastline, and if they are to become the natural boundaries for the margin, it is very important that they are included in the margins, and that we establish these margins wherever possible and, if possible, along the entire coastal access path.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) said-he is no longer in his place-amendment 32 makes a fair point. I am not convinced
that it should be pressed to a Division, but many other sporting interests would be sympathetic to the sentiment expressed in the amendment. The British Mountaineering Council has made it clear that when there are temporary closures of coastal footpaths for various reasons, such as for nesting at certain times of year, or in order for conservation measures to be undertaken, those temporary closures should take place on the basis of voluntary partnerships at local level wherever possible. I should like an assurance from the Minister today that the least restrictive option will be recommended for the temporary closure of coastal footpaths for the reasons that I outlined.
Amendment 34 is about the inclusion of particular voices in the consultation process and potential objections to Natural England's refusal to undertake a review, and I reiterate the importance of ensuring that consultation on the establishment of any coastal path in any local area includes, at the earliest possible stage, those with a legitimate interest in the matter. The Ramblers Association, in particular, feels strongly about it, and the association has a fair point, so I should appreciate the Minister's comments on the matter.
The points that amendment 40 raises were debated at some length in Committee, but the issue of parks and gardens is ongoing, and I reiterate the point that was made in Committee, whereby there must be a distinction between parks on the one hand and gardens on the other. Surely no one in this House would try to argue that an individual whose private garden happened to be near the coast deserved to have ramblers, walkers and rock climbers on his or her land. That would be absolutely unreasonable. However, with large estates attached to large parks that, in many cases, go down to the coastline, there is a case for establishing coastal access that does not impact intrusively on park owners.
Paddy Tipping: My hon. Friend makes a very strong point, and perhaps she will remind the House that Natural England, the statutory adviser, recommended that parks and gardens not be excluded-exempted-from the Bill.
Ms Angela C. Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I remain disappointed that the provision for excluding parks and gardens from the Bill has not been removed. At this late stage, however, it remains for those of us who would have favoured such a change to the Bill simply to ask the Minister to reassure us that the matter will come back before the House within two years, with a report on whether the voluntary arrangements that the Government recommended have worked. I stress that if we find that they have not, we will need to think again about putting regulations-amendments-in place to deal with the issue effectively.
The Isle of Wight is a popular holiday destination whose value to walkers and tourists alike is well known, but it is excluded from the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) will have something to say about that, but I argue that the Isle of Wight, as the biggest island belonging to the UK and reasonably accessible by ferry all year round, should be included in the Bill's coastal access provisions. We look to the Minister to reassure us that an order will be made to include the Isle of Wight in those provisions.
The issue of ferries, and, in particular, whether islands that are reached by seasonal ferries should be included in the Bill, has not been satisfactorily resolved. The question is, when seasonal ferries do not operate, in winter usually, what do walkers who wish to use coastal footpaths do? Are they to face long detours, or will Natural England be encouraged to make alternative provisions to get around the fact that those ferries do not operate at certain times of the year?
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I have spoken to the Bill only once before, on Second Reading, when I discussed its fisheries conservation aspects. I shall use this opportunity, however, to address its coastal access provisions. I have no registrable interests to declare, but my family, like the Secretary of State's family, have a tiny patch of coastline that is affected by the Bill. I do not wish to address that today, however.
I am intrigued by the amendment, which replaces "is" with "may be". Perhaps in tabling it, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) was demonstrating his lack of faith that the Bill would deliver what the Government promise. If the amendment is proffered in that spirit, I very much want to support it, not because I oppose the principle of coastal access but because I think a lot of people will be disappointed by what the Bill delivers.
I am most concerned by what is excluded from the coastal access provisions under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 definition of relevant "excepted land". I must relate to the House a bizarre situation, of which my constituent, Charles Clover, gave a very good account in yesterday's Sunday Times, concerning the Mistley quay in my constituency. Mistley is a little town on the Stour estuary that has a quay on which it is recorded that boats unloaded fish as long ago as the 14th century. By some anachronism, perhaps, the quay has historically been privately owned. However, the public have always enjoyed access to it, so that barges and, in more recent decades, yachts and pleasure craft have been able to use the quay for their enjoyment. That was fine until the Health and Safety Executive threatened to prosecute the quay's operators under health and safety laws for providing insufficient safety equipment on the quay. The HSE gave the owner a choice between either putting up signs and providing suitable equipment such as lifebuoys and ladders or other devices by which people who fall in the water can get out or be rescued, or putting up a fence. It chose the cheaper of the two options and erected an 8-foot wire fence across that historic part of Mistley-across the quay. It is now impossible for ordinary people to access and use the quay.
What will the Bill do for those parts of the coastline that have historically had public access but that are excluded by the Bill? For those areas, the phrase "may be" is very much the operable sentiment, because the Bill seems to do nothing to strengthen proposals for public open spaces on the coastline in areas that are excluded by the Bill.
Let me emphasise how extraordinary the situation is. There has been a huge amount of public protest about this matter in my constituency. I feel sorry for Trent
Wharfage, the owner of the quay to which I referred, for being caught up in all this, although I think that it has gone the wrong way about handling the situation and that it could have avoided a confrontation. It has blocked off historic rights that have existed for a long time, and it looks as though this matter can now be settled only through the courts and a complicated legal process that may not be successful. The Bill would do absolutely nothing to assist the ordinary population of Mistley in resolving this situation.
A few weeks ago, a dinghy capsized in the Stour estuary and a lifeboat was called out from Harwich. A rescue was undertaken and the lifeboat took the people and their dinghy to Mistley quay, but they could not access the quay and no helicopter could land there because of the fence. The fence had to be cut down, with the help of local residents, so that the rescue could be properly effected. What a great victory for health and safety and the HSE! I hope that the Minister will forgive me for placing this very unhappy situation on the record, but I want to know how the Bill will help to resolve it.
The Bill purports to solve all the problems of coastal access, but it demonstrates a thoughtless, rather broad-brush approach that a lot of people have complained about because it will hurt rural parts of the coastline, conservation, privacy and other vital things. Little has been said about how the exclusion of ports could lead to more situations such as that at Mistley quay. The Bill does absolutely nothing to help to resolve that issue, and I would be grateful if the Minister could address that fact.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I would like particularly to address my remarks to amendment 40, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) and for High Peak (Tom Levitt).
The Bill is progressing through Report with remarkably few major amendments having been tabled. That is a tribute to the fact that it came into this House as a very good Bill and, that during its passage, my hon. Friend the Minister has taken full cognisance of sensible efforts to ensure that it leaves us not just as a very good Bill but as an excellent Bill. The spirit of co-operation and sweet reason that has characterised many parts of the debates demonstrates the general feeling around the House that the Bill is essential for the marine and coastal environment of England and that it should be, and is, as good as it can be.
The modest proposal in the amendment underlines not only the spirit of negotiation and voluntary discussion that is a substantial part particularly of the coastal access elements of the Bill, but the notion that those provisions set out genuine principles and a real understanding of what it is to have coastal access around England. They belong honourably within a marine Bill. One cannot, in a discussion of shipping and ports, separate what is on the land side from what is on the seaward side of a ports' operations and activities, and the coast is an essential part of our marine environment in terms not only of public access but of how it relates to the marine environment beyond the shores and out to sea.
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