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Lord Glentoran had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 54:

(".--( ) Any person who fails to comply with paragraph 4 or 5 and who intentionally or recklessly allows a dog to disturb game is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale.
( ) In this paragraph, "game" includes hares, pheasants, partridges, grouse, heath or moor game, black game, woodcocks and snipes.").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, there has been continuing discussion or battle about the creation of offences or introducing sanctions and several debates about dogs--some more complicated than others. The Minister has given some way, so I do not propose to move Amendment No. 54. But, after reading Hansard, I shall decide whether or not to return to the issue.

[Amendment No. 54 not moved.]

Clause 3 [Power to extend to coastal land]:

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 55:

    Page 3, line 4, at end insert--

("( ) Before making such an order, the Secretary of State shall consult appropriate bodies.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, we are making some progress. When we last discussed this issue in Committee, it was at 2.45 a.m. We are now debating it two and a half hours earlier. As this is such an important clause, I had hoped that we would reach it at a more reasonable hour.

Clause 3 is perhaps the most obnoxious clause in the Bill. It gives huge powers to the Secretary of State to make determinations and regulations and totally to ignore Parliament. The making of an order to extend access to the foreshore and to the land that borders the foreshore, including farmland, land under managed retreat, vulnerable salt marshes or the habitats of sea and marsh birds is a highly complex issue. Yet here we are allowing the Secretary of State to make an order, without any consultation specified on the face of the Bill, that could affect vast areas of land.

I believe the fact of the Secretary of State having compulsorily to consult appropriate bodies should be on the face of the Bill . The Minister may well reply that there was a consultation period last year. That consultation period was a derisory four weeks. It was an insult to those involved in this area of land. I remind the House that there are over 240 agencies involved in retreat land. How can a sensible response be obtained in four weeks?

It is also worth bearing in mind that the Countryside Commission for Wales has stated its view that a statutory right of public access to coastal land is untenable. But the Government have ignored that advice and ploughed ahead with the clause.

I dislike the clause intensely but we shall deal with that in relation to Amendment No. 57. If the clause is to stay, it is essential that the fact that the Secretary of State should consult appropriate bodies is on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment and in doing so I shall speak also to Amendment No. 56. As the Bill is drafted, any land adjacent to the coast could have the right of access imposed upon it, including arable land, improved

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grassland or woodland. Moreover, adjacent land does not need to adjoin the coast or be contiguous with it. It could be separate parcels of land some distance away. Halsbury's Laws of England comments:

    "The expression 'adjacent' has in ordinary usage no precise and uniform meaning, but is not confined to places adjoining and includes places close to or near".

As it stands, the Bill would accordingly allow land near to the foreshore, but not necessarily adjoining it, to be included in any statutory extension of access land on the coast. That gives too much scope for quite separate parcels of land on the coast, not adjoining the foreshore, to be made subject to the right of access. The amendment would provide a much more targeted approach.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, I commend the accuracy of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in discerning that we are debating this matter two hours earlier than in Committee. Unfortunately, when the matter was considered in Committee, I was asleep in the Library and so I did not have the opportunity to comment on it and to add the views of English Nature to those of the Countryside Commission for Wales. I was gratified to discover on reading Hansard that the Minister had made a commitment that there would be a full regulatory impact assessment followed by consultation on the possibility of including coastal land within the definition of open country. The combination of a regulatory impact assessment and consultation is welcome.

English Nature as well as the Countryside Commission for Wales has considerable concern about the blanket inclusion of coastal land as access land. Coastal land varies in its sensitivity. Some categories of coastal land are extremely sensitive; for example, in the case of a bird colony just one person walking through the land can damage it for a number of years, whereas other types of coastal land, such as sandy beaches, where there is already considerable access, are pretty robust. I ask the Minister whether, if access to coastal land is ever to be granted as a statutory right, he will consider that future consultation should be about selective application of the right only to non-sensitive categories of coastal land.

12.15 a.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, noble Lords will be familiar with the background to the issue. The consultation paper covered it and the agency recommended that we should cover coastal land. Clearly, because of the many sensitive issues raised by noble Lords tonight, there was no time to take a firm decision one way or the other. We therefore want to retain in the Bill the ability to extend access land to coastal land.

If we were to go down that road, many safeguards are built into the Bill. At the time of Second Reading in another place, my colleague Michael Meacher gave two important undertakings: first, that there will be a regulatory impact assessment and, secondly, that there will be a full process of consultation. The nature of that

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consultation will to some extent depend on the outcome of our experience of the operation of the right of access over mountain, moor, heath and down. But the commitment to full consultation clearly exists and I hope that that reassures the noble Earl that full consultation would be required before any part of coastal land was triggered.

The outcome of that consultation could be the general extension of the right of access to coastal land or a more restricted definition. Alternatively, it could be something closer to what we have in the Bill for other forms of access land; namely, that coastal land in general would be access land but that certain parts of it would be excepted. However, we are not at the stage of being able to define that in the way suggested by the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, which limits it to cliff, bank, barrier and so forth. It would exclude the possibility of other coastal land being included and would restrict the definition to land which adjoins the foreshore rather than land which is adjacent to it.

We would come to those issues were we ever to go down this road and they would be covered by both the regulatory impact statement and the full consultation. Therefore, it is built into the process that it would be wrong to try to restrict the definition as suggested by the noble Baroness's amendment at this stage of the proceedings, long before any decision in principle has been taken.

I hope therefore that noble Lords are reasonably assured that the consultation would take place before we ever went down this road.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he say whether I am right in thinking that although there is an undertaking from the Government to consult, no such obligation exists for subsequent governments and that the ability to extend without consultation will remain on the statute book?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there are general provisions for consultation in any of the definitions of "access land". Those provisions apply to this as they do to other clauses of the Bill and therefore I believe that future governments would be constrained to engage in consultation, just as much as we would.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, while I welcome much of what the Minister said, perhaps I may press him further. How long does he expect a full consultation process to last? Will it be the same as last year's derisory effort of four weeks or will it be a more sensible period of time for the various bodies to take part? As I mentioned earlier, more than 240 agencies are involved in retreat land in south-east England. Will there be adequate time for them to give full replies? If the Minister could confirm that the consultation period would be in excess of six months, that would provide reassurance.

Although there will be a consultation period, it is clear that Parliament will be no part of it. The Minister said that we would come to the question of definitions

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when the regulations were laid. We shall not. At that time we must either reject them or accept them; we shall not be allowed to enter into the kind of debate in which noble Lords are now engaged.

To insert a clause like this is a real abuse of Parliament, with all the complications referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. On the previous occasion when noble Lords debated this matter, the noble Baroness had the privilege of speaking to it. I hope that the noble Baroness spoke for herself and not English Nature. While the latter may agree with the views of the noble Baroness, I hope that, like other noble Lords, she gave entirely her own views.

In the light of my observations about the Countryside Council for Wales, it appears that the two main bodies on which the Government rely are against the proposals. Before I decide what to do with the amendment, perhaps the Minister will answer the further points that I raise.

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