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We have already said that Natural England will report to Parliament on progress of the implementation of the route after 10 years. In addition, as I promised in Committee, I have asked it to undertake an earlier interim review and to report to Parliament specifically on issues that have arisen as a result of parks being excepted land, and on the success of any voluntary agreements to ensure public access along the route through parks. Although it is not a requirement in the Bill, we have asked that that report should take place within five years of Royal Assent. I also made it clear in Committee that the Secretary of State could amend the exception for parks and gardens if satisfactory progress is not made and significant issues remain. That would be subject to the affirmative procedure; it would not require primary legislation, but it would need to be approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
Let me make it clear that my proposals do not represent a pendulum, or an axe, swinging over landowners. Let me also say, however, that in Committee and in the changes that we have made to the Bill we have made clear our intention to open access-where we can-to some of the coastal gems that could be described as the jam in the doughnut. I believe that there is a willingness to do that, but I also believe that we must all work collectively, in the House and outside, to ensure that it is done.
We have already made a commitment, in Committee, to take steps to include the Isle of Wight in an order which will be subject to consultation: the legislation will not be rammed down people's throats. Natural England will consider other islands that cannot be reached on foot-again, after local discussion and consultation. I believe it is appropriate for islands that cannot be reached on foot to be considered individually, because all our islands are singularly different from each other.
As for other islands that may be reached by ferry, I know that the question of whether Lundy will be included has been raised before. The island is hugely attractive and people-including me-love to go there, but access to it is limited owing to the lack of any regular ferry service. I am aware that there may be a case for including it in due course, but Natural England will need to engage in detailed discussions with the National Trust and the Landmark Trust before we reach a decision.
I assure Members that I shall be happy to report back to Parliament on progress relating to the inclusion of other islands. I do not consider it necessary or appropriate to include in the Bill a requirement such as that proposed in the amendment, but I think I have made it pretty clear that we have not only provided powers in the Bill but would like access to be available-subject to consultation, as with the Isle of Wight.
My hon. Friends raised the important issue of seasonal ferries. Provisions in clause 296 enable Natural England to make a proposal to the Secretary of State on any estuary. It may propose that the route should stop at the mouth of the estuary, that it should stop at any point between the mouth of an estuary and the first public foot crossing-either a bridge or a tunnel-or that it should extend as far as the first public foot crossing. In deciding on such proposals, Natural England must have regard to considerations in clause 292(2) and a number of matters set out in clause 296(4), including the existence of a ferry by which the public may cross the river. At all times when discharging the coastal access duty, Natural England must aim to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having rights of access over land and the interests of owners and occupiers.
As I have said, Natural England will be required to undertake an extensive process of consultation with local interests as it develops its proposals. Estuaries will be an important issue for many areas. For example, the coasts of Essex and Suffolk and those of Devon and Cornwall are indented by estuaries. Natural England's discussions with local interests-which will include land managers, local access forums, local authorities, and wildlife and other interest groups-will be a key part of its approach, and the success of the design of the access corridor.
A proposal in a coastal access report relating to whether a particular estuary should be made up to the first pedestrian crossing point will be included on a case-by-case basis, and Natural England will consider that in the light of the detailed criteria in the Bill. I should make it clear, however, that we would not normally expect Natural England to stop the route at the starting point for a ferry that does not run throughout the year unless particular difficulties are involved in taking the route further upstream to the first public crossing. The Secretary of State will examine all the issues involved-including whether the use of a seasonal ferry for the route is appropriate-before making a decision on the report.
Natural England will prepare its coastal access reports over the 10-year implementation period, and will state in those reports where the existence of a ferry by which the public may cross the river has been a major consideration in its decision for the coastal route in any particular estuary. As I have said, Natural England will report to Parliament on the implementation of the route after 10 years. If the Secretary of State thinks that an earlier
report should be made, he or she may ask it to make one, but I do not consider it necessary or appropriate for the Bill to include such a requirement. Clause 294 requires Natural England to complete a review of the scheme within three years of its first being approved by the Secretary of State, and I would expect such a review to cover the matters that the amendment seeks to require the report to include. Given that requirement, along with the requirement for a report after five years in regard to parks and gardens and the report to Parliament after 10 years, I urge Members not to press their amendments.
"No duty of care is owed by Natural England"
"under the law of negligence... when preparing"
or proposing the coastal route, in connection with any failure by Natural England to erect signs warning of hazards or in connection with any failure by it to restrict or exclude access. It also states:
"No duty of care is owed by the Secretary of State... under the law of negligence when... approving proposals"
The matter was debated extensively in the other place. As Lord Hunt of King's Heath noted, we doubt that a court would impose such a duty of care, and the aim of clause 300 is to clarify the legal position. Let us be frank. We recognise that in places the coast is inherently dangerous, and we do not want uncertainty about the legal position to give rise to an over-cautious or nannyish approach that could result in warning signs unnecessarily dotting the landscape. That would be in no one's interest.
Ms Angela C. Smith: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The British Mountaineering Council has made it absolutely clear that in sports such as rock climbing and mountaineering safety is the responsibility of the individual, and risk is part of participation in such sports. I believe that that is generally the right approach.
Huw Irranca-Davies: My hon. Friend is right. We do not want to wrap all outdoor activities in cotton wool. Part of the joy of experience of the outdoor environment is the risk that is inherent in, for instance, walking up a hill, along a coast or along a cliff. Those risks are part and parcel of sport, and of our development as adults or, indeed, as children.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, my constituency has no coastal path but does contain a huge number of well-established mountain-climbing areas. All the risks are thoroughly understood and agreed on by landowners and climbers, and there is no reason why the same arrangements should not apply to coastal paths.
Let me give the House an anecdote to think about. On a memorable occasion, I walked through an area that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) will know very well: Fan Hir, that marvellous ridge where the Brecons lift up before dropping off. The next mountains to be seen are the Cambrian mountains,
further afield, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams). I was walking there late one night, when the snow was coming down, and suddenly realised that I had run out of time. The rivers were in full flood, I could not return on the track I had arrived along, and the darkness was coming in. I rang my wife and told her not to worry and that I would be back home safely. She replied, "That's perfectly understandable, my dear, I'll see you later," and then put the phone down; I was, however, hoping that she would come out and rescue me when I got back down to the bottom. I finally returned home four hours later, in snow and the pitch black. I tell that story only to illustrate the point that the outdoor environment is inherently risky and that we manage our own risks.
Bill Wiggin: The problem with this clause is that it is the Government position, rather than the user of the outdoors, that is being wrapped in cotton wool. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) has tabled his amendment. Will the Minister therefore allay our fears about the liability of landowners, as I suspect that, in the circumstances, they might be making parts of the countryside or coast unavailable because they are fearful of being sued?
The other reason why we do not want to take the approach I have been talking about is that we do not want to create a lawyers charter. We do not consider it necessary for people to waste their money instructing lawyers in order to test the position.
Clause 292 makes it clear that in discharging the coastal access duty Natural England and the Secretary of State are required to have regard to the safety and convenience of those using the English coastal route. I therefore believe that the approach we have set out in clause 300 is proportionate to the specific circumstances. It reflects the position of many who responded to our public consultation on ways to improve access to the coast. We are not setting out through this legislation to change the nature of the English coast and make it safe in all circumstances; I know that the hon. Member for Newbury understands that. People must ultimately take responsibility for their own safety and that of children and others in their care, and come to the coast with that thought in mind. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on that point, and consider withdrawing the amendment.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) raised the issue of occupiers' liability, and there is also the question of whether owners will be held responsible for accidents on their land. When the CROW Act introduced the right of access to open country and registered common land marked as access land, provision was made on occupier's liability under the Occupiers Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984. As the hon. Gentleman will know, this has reduced the level of liability of occupiers to members of the public who are exercising their right of access on CROW Act access land, and that was the right and proper thing to do. For example, if someone sustains an injury on CROW Act land because of a natural feature of the landscape, the reduced level of
liability means there will be no scope to sue the occupier. In addition, if someone sustains an injury by, for example, climbing over a wall or a fence, the reduced level of liability means that there will be no scope to sue the occupier unless the injury was sustained through the proper use of a gate or style, provided that the danger is not due to anything done by the landowner with the intention of creating a risk or being reckless about whether a risk was created. That is the clear legal difference.
Tom Levitt: My High Peak constituency has more open access land as defined under the CROW Act than any other constituency in England, and I am not aware of there having been even one case of liability. People have been relieved that the liability provisions of the CROW Act have worked, and there is no reason to believe that they will not work in this Bill too in a way that reassures landowners, users of the areas and others.
I have corresponded with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough as a result of her representations on behalf of the British Mountaineering Council, the Ramblers and others, and I just want to put the following points on the record. I recognise that, as with open access, there may be occasions when access on the coast might cause a problem, and Natural England will have to consider the need for any restrictions or exclusions. These restrictions will be considered as part of Natural England's coastal report, which has to be approved by the Secretary of State. The Bill requires Natural England to prepare a scheme setting out the approach it will take to discharge its coastal access duty, which must be approved by the Secretary of State. Natural England will shortly consult on a draft of the scheme, and will establish that in any case in which it decides that action is necessary, its policy will be to adopt the option that is least restrictive of public access.
The hon. Member for North Essex asked whether the Secretary of State can do anything to give access to relevant excepted land. Such land is normally excepted for very good reasons. The key is to get the categories of excepted land right-we have been talking about that in this debate. That is why we are currently consulting on the appropriate categories of excepted land for coastal access. I hope the hon. Gentleman will contribute to that discussion and make suggestions as to the changes that we might propose, such as those to the categories of excepted land under schedule 1 of the CROW Act. Certain categories of excepted land are not access land for the purpose of part 1 so we have made some proposals.
First, we propose to remove some existing categories of excepted land that we do not think are appropriate for the coastal margin. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to offer his thoughts on that. Secondly, we propose to amend some of the existing categories to allow for the coastal route to go through them. That will be of relevance to many Members who are keen golfers. Thirdly, we propose to add some new categories appropriate to the circumstances of the coastal margin, such as formal camp and caravan sites. We also seek views on these published guidelines and on the meaning
of the existing categories. I hope that is of some help to the hon. Gentleman as he has identified a relevant point, but this Bill and the reform of some of the excepted land categories offer us the opportunity to make the sort of changes to which he refers.
Mr. Jenkin: I thank the Minister for his comments and his helpful suggestion, which I think means I shall be able to take part in the consultation on what categories of exempted land shall be made. Perhaps areas where public access has historically been allowed could be included in that. In the meantime, however, may I ask the Minister just to have a word with his ministerial colleague with responsibility for the HSE? It seems that at present the Minister is trying to extend coastal access but the HSE does not give a monkey's about coastal access issues. It could therefore be encouraged to behave a little more responsibly in that regard.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I am sure that the HSE and relevant Ministers will hear those comments. On whether the Bill will provide access to Mistley quay, let me say that we are consulting on the treatment of quays specifically, and we currently propose that the right of access should apply to them. The landowner would therefore benefit from the reduced liability I referred to earlier in respect of clause 301. I ask the hon. Gentleman to keep the communication going and to keep putting points forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test has been a keen advocate of coastal access and the coastal margins both in Committee and through campaigning outside this House, as have many hon. Members and hon. Friends. On amendment 40, I have described the role of the reporting function to Parliament after 10 years, but I want to clarify what I said earlier: if it is necessary for an earlier report to be made, the Secretary of State may, indeed, ask for that to be done.
The Minister's earlier remarks on my amendment 35 left me mildly piqued. He seemed to suggest that I was intending by this measure to trash the whole concept of a coastal margin, but nothing could have been further from my intentions. I was seeking to be honest and transparent-as he says, we in this House are all interested in that at this moment-and in trying to be frank with people. We are not saying that there will be coastal margin everywhere in the delivery of this path. I was on holiday this summer in the north Norfolk area. As the Minister might know, there is a narrow strip of beach in many parts of north Norfolk, with a few dunes and then a vast area of marsh, before coming to solid land with houses, gardens and fields. As I looked at this, fresh from the Committee, I was struck by how difficult it would be to deliver in those areas coastal margin access that was either safe or practical. Through amendment 35, I was just trying to create some clarity and honesty. The Minister's remarks, which are on the record, have helped in that respect and I am not going to push the amendment.
On amendments 32 and 33, I pay tribute to the Minister for his Herculean efforts in seeking to find a greater degree of understanding and agreement on this
issue; he should take the credit for that. His meeting with the relevant bodies has gone a long way towards clarifying the situation. I may have got it wrong, but I think he went a little further in his remarks today than he originally did. Specifying in regulations in schedule 19 is a major step forward. It secures the position of a whole range of interests in the land. I am grateful for his further comments relating not just to sporting interests but to those with mineral rights or options for such rights, for example. They will be reassured by his comments, so this is a major step forward.
On amendment 34 and the change of use, the Minister said that this provision would be implemented in a way that does not sterilise land. That is really important. Land should not be sealed in aspic; it should be constantly evolving. A whole range of options are open to land managers; they do not want them to be stifled by what could effectively be a charge on the land, which would prevent them from going down such routes.
I do not understand why an exclusion around agricultural buildings could not have been included in the Bill, as it was in the CROW Act. If we have learned one thing from foot and mouth and other more recent problems, it is that biosecurity is very important. A 20-metre exclusion around farm buildings would have been a good thing; however, I am not going to press the matter.
The Minister talked about exclusions, which have been used very effectively under CROW by a whole range of different land managers. The problem is that it is a big ask of walkers. Before going for a walk in the country, are people really going to sit down, log on to the local authority website, see which landowner has an exclusion because of lambing or nesting, for example, and find out where their land starts and finishes? It is asking a lot of people to follow through that process.
On the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin)-he told us about the rescue of an injured person-although the Health and Safety Executive has caused this problem, it could be the solution in that it might now say that action has to be taken to resolve such problems. However, this is a very important case study that shows how pressure points will be applied to this legislation. They will be resolved best locally, by local people and with the involvement of organisations such as local access forums and local authorities.
On the debate concerning parks and gardens, we discovered in Committee, as was discovered with the CROW Act, that a lawyer's charter can be created, with lawyers dancing on the head of a pin in trying to describe where a garden finishes and a park begins. Of course, when thinking about the Bill, hon. Members have in their minds landscapes by Repton or Capability Brown-vast landscapes miles away from any residents. However, we have to secure basic rights of privacy. We have to recognise that the wording is very difficult to get right, and the Minister is right to keep that exclusion in, albeit with his caveats about hoping to achieve more access.
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