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Mr. Benyon: Absolutely, and if the Minister had delegated responsibility for delivering his manifesto to me, I would have been able to provide his Government with a wonderful scheme involving local landowners and farmers in a way that has worked in my area and around the country. I just hope that the flexibility that he talks about will exist, and if he can assure me that those practices will be taken into account, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The argument is somewhat circuitous, because we are arguing both for a blanket-type approach and for flexibility. I assure him that in the consultation we anticipate removal of the standard 20 m exemption in CROW, but we want more flexibility for landowners, farmers and others who want to use their premises on the coast for cafĂ(c)s, restaurants or bed and breakfasts. We want flexibility, and input into the consultation is key to protect their interests as well as those of people with genuine biosecurity interests. That is where we want to make progress. With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Bill.
Mr. Benyon: I will not withdraw the Bill—I do not yet have that power—but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 290 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 291

General provision about the coastal access duty
Mr. Benyon: I beg to move amendment 33, in clause 291, page 187, leave out ‘aim to’.
This amendment is designed to tighten up the duty on Natural England to strike a fair balance between new access rights given to the general public and the existing rights of those members of the public who own or have an interest in land which will become the coastal margin.
This is a simple amendment, which removes “aim to” in line 17 so that Natural England and the Secretary of State must
“strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having rights of access over land and the interests of any person with a relevant interest in the land.”
We will discuss what constitutes a relevant interest in the land at a later stage, but the amendment would tighten the duty on Natural England to strike a fair balance between the new access rights and the existing rights of members of the public who own or have an interest in land that will become the coastal margin. It is important that the Minister understand that the wording in this part of the Bill is key. Tightening it by removing two simple words could give comfort to many people without limiting the Bill’s aim of providing greater access.
Ann McKechin: The amendment, as the hon. Member for Newbury said, sets out how the Secretary of State and Natural England must go about fulfilling the coastal access duty, and sets out what they must take into account. Under the provision as drafted, they must have regard to the safety and convenience of those using the English coastal route, the desirability of the route being close to the sea and providing views of the sea and, as far as reasonably practicable, they must ensure that interruptions to the route are kept to a minimum. That is clearly stated in subsection (2). They must also aim to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having rights of access over land, and the interests of any persons with a relevant interest in the land. That means that a balance would be struck regarding the particular piece of land—not that the interests of the relevant person should be set against the interests of the public in the route and in coastal access as a whole. However, the coastal access duty requires Natural England to propose a route, and it must bear that in mind when trying to strike a fair balance. The body is under a duty to consider all options for the route, between the public interest in having the route and the interest of the landowner in having it cross his or her land. That will necessarily involve a balancing exercise between different landowners’ interests.
It is our intention that Natural England and the Secretary of State do everything that is reasonably practicable to achieve a fair balance. I cannot support the amendment, as requiring that Natural England and the Secretary of State “aim to” strike a fair balance is a strong inducement for them to do so, and we provide additional protection by making the Secretary of State jointly responsible with Natural England for making that decision, which should reassure those with an interest in the land. If they failed to do so, a person with a relevant interest in the land could object to the route under the procedure set out in schedule 19. We hope that consensus can be achieved in most cases, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has indicated. That balance lies at the heart of our proposals, and I believe that the correct balance has been struck. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment on the basis of those reassurances.
Mr. Benyon: My amendment was sensible, in that it sought to rebalance the fair balance, if the Minister will allow me to express a tautology. However, I understand the points that have been made, and hope that through this process we are able to reassure all sides in the debate that the fair balance can be achieved. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Benyon: I beg to move amendment 34, in clause 291, page 187, line 23, at end insert—
‘( ) owns the sporting rights’.
To ensure that those who own the sporting rights separate to being the owner or occupier are included in the statutory provisions for consultation etc.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 46, in clause 296, page 196, leave out lines 14 and 15 and insert—
‘(a) has a legal estate or legal interest in the land, or’.
Amendment 43, in clause 296, page 196, line 16, at end insert—
‘(d) owns the sporting rights.’.
Mr. Benyon: The amendments seek to ensure that those who own sporting rights, separate from being the owner or occupier of land, are included in the statutory provisions for the consultation and in all rights that go with that status. In the Bill, the definition of a person with a relevant interest in affected land who would have particular statutory rights in the consultation process, as well as in the implementation of coastal access, covers only those who own a freehold title or a leasehold title, or are persons in lawful occupation of affected land. Unlike the definition in the CROW Act, that completely neglects those with sporting rights, who have a legitimate legal interest in land.
Martin Salter: The hon. Gentleman will be aware of starred amendment 65, which seeks to achieve the same objective; it was tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that it is not just shooting interests that are concerned about this issue and that it could impact, in certain circumstances, on recreational sea fishing? He quite rightly raises the matter of public safety. Of course, the casting of heavy leads or weights from the shore is something that is potentially dangerous and sea fishermen do not want to do that if there is any chance of causing injury to innocent passers-by. There is a wider sporting interest at stake here than just shooters and I support that interest.
5.45 pm
Mr. Benyon: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is for that reason that we used the words, “sporting rights”, rather than just the word, “shooting”. When we have this route in mind, we must not think simply of particular areas of the coast that may be relevant to Members in this room. There may be a very narrow area of land between the sea and, for example, a cliff, or there could be much more open land. We have to bear in mind the needs and legitimate rights of all relevant sporting organisations and their supporters.
I believe that owners of sporting rights should be included in the definition of those who have a relevant interest in land, as they are under the CROW Act. The failure to include owners of sporting rights in that way means that they are, for example, not covered by the fundamental principle and statutory obligation behind the coastal access provisions that Natural England and the Secretary of State must
“aim to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having access over land and the interests of any person with a relevant interest in the land.”
We come back to that important phrase again—“aim to”. This issue comes down fundamentally to that point.
“take reasonable steps to consult”.
A further area of concern is sporting rights on existing CROW access land and what happens when land is reclassified as “coastal margin”, especially in respect of spreading room. The owners of those existing sporting rights have certain rights under the CROW Act. Under section 22, for example, they can close land at their discretion. The Government propose that that right will not apply to coastal margin, with no distinction being made between the route and additional spreading room. If such rights are to be lost, owners of those rights should have full statutory rights to object to proposals to reclassify land where existing rights are at stake.
That issue does not seem to be addressed anywhere in the Bill, or in any supplementary guidance, which means that owners of sporting rights will only have the limited rights of any member of the public where land with existing CROW protections is reclassified. It is worth recalling that the Joint Committee on Human Rights stated, in respect of the absence of an independent appeals process from the Bill as it was introduced and happily later amended, that that rendered the Bill incompatible with article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Joint Committee noted:
“In all comparable legislation providing for the designation of public rights of access over private land there is provision for a right of appeal by those affected to an independent court or tribunal.”
The Joint Committee went on to say:
“The Secretary of State’s decision approving the coastal access scheme will amount to the determination of the ‘civil rights’ of those with an interest in the land affected, within the meaning of Article 6(1) ECHR”.
That is the right to a fair hearing. The Joint Committee recommended that the Bill be amended to provide a right of appeal to an independent body, saying that an amendment
“would remove the incompatibility with Article 6 ECHR that we have identified”.
That led to the introduction of an independent right of appeal, which is greatly welcomed.
There is a key group of people who do not have the same status as those listed as having a relevant interest, which does not sit comfortably with the reasoning of the Joint Committee, which specifically refers to the determination of the civil rights of those with an interest in affected land. The position appears to be all the more arbitrary and unjust, given that the Bill gives greater protection to those with no legally enforceable rights than to the owners of sporting rights who do have a legally enforceable property right.
The Government’s arguments in another place on this issue do not stand up to scrutiny. The Minister, Lord Hunt, argued that land under CROW included a number of grouse moors that made shooting interests particularly pertinent and that Natural England’s involvement with local authorities would ensure that shooting interests were properly represented because local authorities
“will have an in-depth knowledge of local interests, such as shooting interests, and will be able to advise Natural England on the proper persons who should be consulted.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 June 2009; Vol. 711, c. 31.]
First, the CROW Act makes specific provision for grouse moors. Obviously that is not particularly relevant here, but that provision applied only in respect of dogs under section 23, which the Government intend to exclude under the proposed section 3A order. That is understandable in the context of the current proposals with regard to such matters as grouse moors, although it does not address the other part of the measure, which deals with lambing. I believe that that could be of great concern to farmers in certain parts of coastal England and Wales. It also fails to take account of the fact that shooting takes place on all types of land, and especially in coastal areas. Some 59 leases are granted by the Crown estate to wildfowling clubs covering around 500 miles of the foreshore. These are very ad hoc arrangements enabling people with a great love of the countryside to contribute to conservation. It is hard to see how their rights will be properly secured under this provision.
Secondly, there is no reason to suppose that local authorities have an in-depth knowledge of the complex nature of land ownership in their areas. They understand certain aspects of it, but I would not expect my local authority to have an in-depth understanding of the wide variety of sporting rights that exist in an inland area like mine and I am sure that the same would be true in coastal areas.
Thirdly, the Government propose to disapply section 22 of CROW under the proposed section 3A order, which allows the closure of land for a limited number of days at the discretion of owners or those with an interest in the land, and is vital to those exercising sporting rights. Section 22 of CROW would continue to apply to spreading room, which is the coastal margin other than that over which the route passes, but section 24 can now be used by owners of sporting rights to obtain closures or restrictions to enable them to exercise their rights. There is an essential difference between people who own the land, and who could live many miles away and not have much interest in it, and those who are on the land all the time and could have an interest in the sporting potential that it offers.
Section 24 relates to applications for closures or restrictions in respect of land for land management. Is the activity of shooting by a person owning sporting rights separate from the land in fact land management for the purposes of the Bill? In correspondence, DEFRA has stated that
“land management reasons... can include management for shooting.”
Does that only cover management activities preparatory to shooting but not the actual shooting, or does it cover both? We need to know the answer. Furthermore, the process of having to apply may be impractical in cases in which the decision on whether to shoot has to be taken at short notice, particularly in pest control.
We want sea anglers to be able to go and enjoy their activity at a moment’s notice. That is part of the joy of activities in the countryside: one does not have to sit down and plan or spend endless hours on the internet trying to find out where exclusions exist. We should be trying to work with the grain of wishes of users of the countryside. If a request is denied, there is no guarantee of a swift appeal under section 30 of the CROW Act. Rights could be rendered meaningless by burdensome bureaucracy and delay. It should also be noted that the application of section 30 won during the Bill’s passage in another place could be rendered meaningless by the use of a future section 3A order by which the remaining CROW protections could be disapplied in respect of coastal margin.
How can owners of sporting rights take comfort from any assurance if they are not even covered by the statutory duty in the Bill under which Natural England and the Secretary of State must aim to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having access and the interests of a person with a relevant interest in the land? According to the Bill, they have no relevant interest greater than any other member of the public. That is clearly nonsense. As a look at the CROW Act or the basic principles of property law in this country will confirm, the arguments advanced to date by the Government have produced no good justification for what some must see as an attack on a fundamental right where the proper relationship between citizen and state are at risk.
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