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Lord Greaves: I support the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Peel. We have a messy list at present. Despite what the Minister has just said, that will cause much confusion. It will lead people to believe that relatively innocent activities such as camping and jumping in streams are on a par with criminal activities. It would be helpful if the list could be re-jigged so that the distinction was clearer.

Lord Whitty: They are on a par with criminal activities in so far as they affect a person's right to access, which is the point of Schedule 2. However, I shall consider the matter more closely to see whether it seems appropriate to change anything.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Powers to extend to coastal land]:

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 148:

Page 3, line 4, at end insert--
("( ) Before making such an order, the Secretary of State shall consult appropriate bodies.").

The noble Earl said: On Amendment No. 142 the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that the Committee would be hesitant to give the Secretary of State power to extend the provisions of the Bill. I hope that it would. That is exactly the approach that Clause 3 requires. Here we have a classic Henry VIII clause. Having had a good debate about dogs and access, the Government now believe that they can slip through quietly a clause which gives the Secretary of State huge powers without having to come to Parliament in any major way, slipping matters through by statutory instrument.

I remember my old sparring partner, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, becoming extremely agitated with me when he accused the government of which I was then a member of trying to do something similar. I hope that the noble Lord, will answer; it would be rather fun to have the boot on the other foot for a change. It is a monstrous clause to impose. The Government are cocking a snook at the whole process of Parliament.

As drafted, the Bill grants the right to the Secretary of State to extend access to the foreshore and to all the land that borders the foreshore, whether that includes farmland, land under managed retreat, vulnerable salt marshes or the habitats of sea and marsh birds. He may do so without consulting any informed body or organisation. What a blanket power to give to the Secretary of State!

The amendment aims to ensure that the Secretary of State carries out a full consultation before allowing access to this land. The issue of allowing access to the foreshore and adjacent land is complex and access to that land has not been included in the Bill for a number of good reasons. Consultation was carried out last

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year. However, the organisations consulted were given only four weeks in which to respond to the complicated nature of the shoreline around England and Wales and the impact which access might have on it.

The issues to be taken into account are considerable. Coastal areas are vulnerable, changeable and frequently dangerous. Landowners and local authorities have been asked to secure for public access areas subject to high tides, moving sands and soils, quicksand and crumbling cliff edges. Access authorities are being asked to map areas which may already have been targeted under managed retreat to fall into the sea. Granting access to parts of the coastline which will no longer be there in 10 years' time is a waste of time and resources. Coastal areas, in particular in the south-west and south-east of England, change constantly according to the action of the sea and the impact of climate change. The Environment Agency is currently one of only 240 agencies involved in managed retreat which need to be consulted before any access is granted to coastal areas.

There are many other complex land management issues involved in granting access to coastal areas. I ask the Government to listen to the genuine concerns of the legitimate organisations involved before making any decisions on the matter. I beg to move.

Lord Glentoran: I strongly support my noble friend Lord Caithness in his Amendment No. 148, but I shall speak to Amendment No. 151, which is similar, but goes even further. It states:

    "An order under this section shall not be made unless the Secretary of State (as respects England) or the National Assembly for Wales (as respects Wales) has consulted those interests likely to be affected by the order, has undertaken and published a regulatory impact assessment in relation to the proposed order, and has undertaken and published an assessment of the effects of a proposal for any such order on--

(a) the environment, including any effects on the natural beauty, flora, fauna and geological and physiographical features of the land affected, (b) the use and management of land adjacent to the land affected, and (c) flood and coastal defence and coast protection in relation to the land affected".

The amendment makes explicit the commitment made by the Minister in another place on Second Reading that,

    "no order will be laid until a full public consultation has been carried out and a regulatory impact statement has been prepared".--[Official Report, Commons, 20/3/00; col. 725.]

The amendment would also require a prior assessment of the effects of any such order on the environment, the use and management of land adjacent to the coast and flood defence and coast protection. That would entail consideration of issues such as the impact of dogs on livestock grazing coastal land and the effects of access on legitimate wildfowling activities. Public safety is also a significant issue for all coastal land.

It is important when considering whether to extend rights of access to coastal land that proper regard is paid to the interests of flood defence and coastal protection and the needs of wildlife and nature conservation. The land affected includes many sea

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walls that need continual maintenance, particularly along the east and south coasts. Many coastal areas are designated as SSSIs for their wildlife value. Many areas are also designated as internationally important. Disturbance to roosts, especially in winter, and to nesting areas can damage the bird population. The potential impact should be assessed carefully beforehand.

Before exercising any power to extend the right of access to coastal land, the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales should be required to undertake a full consultation and environmental assessment by consulting representative interests that are affected or likely to be affected. They should make an assessment of the implications of the order for the environment, the use and management of the adjacent land and flood and coastal defence and coastal protection and should draw up a regulatory impact assessment of the implications of the order.

Although the Minister's commitment on Second Reading is taken to have been given in good faith, his words will not bind future Secretaries of State of any party. We feel very strongly that, if our important and fragile coastal habitats are be protected from any extension of access, his words must be turned into an obligation in the Bill.

Earl Peel: I support both my noble friends in their amendments. Amendment No. 151 is essential. It has always fascinated me that one of the reasons why English Nature came out against access on coastal land was the impact on ground nesting birds. I do not understand why that argument did not apply to some of the other areas, but that is as may be. If such land is to be considered for public access, it is essential that proper research is carried out to assess the impact. Otherwise, the precautionary principle will have to prevail.

2.30 a.m.

Lord Whitty: I suspect that noble Lords are aware of the background to this issue. When announcing their intention to bring forward legislation for a right to access to mountain, moor, heath, down and common land, the Government also asked the countryside bodies to advise on possible extensions to other types of open countryside. As a result of the process that has been referred to, the Countryside Agency advised that we should extend the right to coastal land. That advice was given last autumn.

However, it soon became apparent--including in relation to some of the issues referred to--that the proposal raised rather different issues to those relating to the other types of open countryside to which Part I applies. There was not enough time to sort out the matter and to undertake the necessary consultations, which I fully accept are necessary. Therefore, the Bill provides a specific power to extend the right of access to coastal land by order, subject to affirmative resolution.

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Of course, much coastal land is already subject to access in various forms. There is obviously some desire to extend that to coastal land more generally, but a number of problems exist. However, we announced at Second Reading in another place that we would undertake full consultation and that we would publish a regulatory impact assessment. Indeed, that is standard practice when proposing regulations that are sufficiently important to require an affirmative resolution. That process would allow us to deal with many of the important issues that arise. Those include the issue of definition, which is to be dealt with by the next group of amendments, and we would need to establish the precise criteria to be used in mapping the land within the overall definition.

Therefore, I believe that the Government are already committed to everything that is included in the amendments. It is standard practice and there is no need to put it on the face of the Bill. The process is subject to affirmative resolution. The Delegated Powers Committee has examined the matter and considers that this is the appropriate way to deal with it.

Therefore, I believe that the power should stand. It provides the opportunity to extend a good deal of beautiful countryside to the right of access. However, it does so only following the full process of consultation and full assessment which noble Lords seek in their amendments. I can give the commitment that we shall meet those obligations. Therefore, I hope that it will not be necessary for noble Lords to press for their points to be included on the face of the Bill. If they are, they may well be misunderstood.

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